|Publication number||CA2195954 A1|
|Application number||CA 2195954|
|Publication date||8 Feb 1996|
|Filing date||27 Jul 1995|
|Priority date||27 Jul 1994|
|Also published as||US5737440, US5917931, US6014454, WO1996003719A1|
|Publication number||CA 2195954, CA 2195954 A1, CA 2195954A1, CA-A1-2195954, CA2195954 A1, CA2195954A1, PCT/1995/10386, PCT/US/1995/010386, PCT/US/1995/10386, PCT/US/95/010386, PCT/US/95/10386, PCT/US1995/010386, PCT/US1995/10386, PCT/US1995010386, PCT/US199510386, PCT/US95/010386, PCT/US95/10386, PCT/US95010386, PCT/US9510386|
|Inventors||Todd M. Kunkler, Daniel R. Davidson, Scott J. Sanner|
|Applicant||Todd M. Kunkler, Daniel R. Davidson, Scott J. Sanner, Ontrack Management Systems, Inc.|
|Export Citation||BiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan|
|Classifications (16), Legal Events (1)|
|External Links: CIPO, Espacenet|
~ WO 9~/037~ 9 5 9 5 4 PC~S~10386 Ul'~ ~n~i r~ T ~ A ~r~ SYSAI EM
8ACKGROUN~ OF l~E INVENTION
l. Field of ~h~ Invention This invention relates to expenditure tracking systems and, more particularly, to an improved automated expenditure tracking system comprising a novel method and apparatus for ~ automatically tracking check expenditures and deposits using printed bank checks having a plurality of graphic icons disposed thereon ~,ese11tative of particular expenditure categories.
2. Descri~tion of the Related Art Millions of people utilize bank checks every day for personal and business use to transact sales of goods and services and to pay bills via funds deposited in a rh~rk;ng or money-market account. Millions more people use Automated Teller Machines ("~TMn~, Point Of Sale t~rmin~lc ("POS") or other Electronic Funds Transfer ~nEFT"~ ~-rhin~q to withdraw or transfer cash electronically in order to make cash purchases and to obtain convenient amounts of cash for discretionary spending.
It is often desirable when making check transactions or ATM or POS withdrawals from a rhrrk;n5 account to be able to keep track of and monitor expenditures according to a predetermined set of expenditure categories for purposes of budgeting and/or managing personal or bu~;nPsc finances. For instance, it is convenient for a bank checking account customer to know at the end of each month not only how much money is currently available in the customer~s rh~rk; ng or money-market account, but also what types and amounts of expenditures have been made during the previous month or several months on such items as food, clothing, entertainment, mortgage, rent, etc. In this manner, a bank customer managing his personal or bllc;nG~s finances can identify possible problem areas in which ~p~nc~c should be reduced in an effort~ 35 to reduce overall costs and to save money. Such budgeting and monitoring of expenditures is often critical for successful long-term f; n~nri ~1 planning.
9 ~ ~ 5 4 WOg6~37l9 ~ PCT~S9~/l03R6 Experience~has shown that most individuals fail to plan adequately for their fin~nr;sl future. A recen~ U.5. Census Bureau survey reports that over 85~ of Americans ~5 or older are living on an income of less than $10,000.00 per year. The majority of these households, however, earned enough income to set aside for more than an adequate retirement investment, but failed to do so. Unfortunately, many working individuals today are following the same trend toward future f;n~n~
insecurity. Particularly in the hectic modern-day world of two income families and even greater f;n~n~;~l pressures, it is ~hq~ ly ~cc~nt;~l to be able to monitor expenditures and investments in order to provide for a sound f;n~nr~l future.
The U.S. ~mall Rllc;n~qc Admini6tration has similarly noted that a larye percentage of all ne~ small bllcin~cRes fail within the first year of operation. This is partially attributable to a lack of adequate f;n~n~;cl plpnning and monitoring of expenditures by relatively inexperienced business managers. Without adequate budgeting and monitoring of business ~Yp~nc~R~ the cash flow of even a moderately successful business can be quickly subsumed by losses from poor investments and wasteful spending. Again, budgeting and monitoring of expenditures is critical to the ~;n~n~i~l well being o~ s~all businesses.
One of the main reasons individuals and small h--Fin~s~es fail to adequately plan their f;n~nr~ i8 the current lack of a convenient - ~h~n; F~ for budgeting and moni~oring expen-ditures and illv:e~i tc. Larger businesse6 and more affluent individuals hire aCconnt~nts and other professionals to budget and monitor their expenditures. sut many working individuals and small bnci~csGc simply cannot afford such personalized prof~csi~n~l services. These individuals and small businesses either perform~these accounting services themselves or go without them.
For those i~ndividuals and small businesses that choose to perform their own accounting services, several tools have recently become available. Most notable are several computer accounting software pLU~L~ that are now readil~ available to ~ WO96~03719 ~ 2 ! 9 5 9 5 4 PCT~S95/10386 assist individuals and ~mall businesses in personal and business financial planning Typically, such software .~d can be used with a personal computer or similar device capable of performing basic finAnciAl computations.
One particularly popular computer Accounting software program ifi marketed under the name "Quicken~" and i8 available ~ from Intuit, Inc. of Menlo Park, California. This program allows users to assign expenditure account categories by entering a text description of each into the program's database. For each check transaction, the user then identifies the appropriate account category and types in the check number and check amount. Once the information has been entered into the computer, it can be manipulated electronic-ally to generate various types of account statements, expend-iture charts and the like, which can be accessed by the user via a video display monitor, an attached printer or magnetic disk storage media. Deposits and other transactions are handled in a similar fashion by the user's manually entering the raw data from the deposit slip, transaction receipt or the like, into the computer.
A significant drawback of these types of computer accounting software pl~yL is that they require the bank customer or user to enter into the computer "raw" data from each check transaction occurring within a given transaction period. This data may, for instance, be entered by the bank customer from his returned checks or from a separate ledger book in which check transactions are routinely entered and recorded. Inputting this data may require a considerable expenditure of time and effort where, for instance, the bank customer has made hundreds of individual check transactions during a given transaction period.
This secondary data entry step is also highly incon-venient. Experience has shown that, while many people want financial management tools, most lack the time and discipline ~ 35 necessary to r~;nt~;n accurate f;nAnriAl records on their own.
Busy families, individuals, and small businesses demand accurate financial reporting in order to reach their f;nAnri~l 5 ~ ~ 4 WO9C~3719 . ~ r~luv,~-~i ~ 4 goals, but they often do not want to expend the signiflcant amounts of time and effort required to maintain such records themselves. Many individuals, in particular, find the use of a personal computer or a keypad highly inconvenient for enter-ing and recordlng check expenditure information. Recentstatistics indicate that almost half of all American house-holds are i~imi~t~d by computers. Other bank customers simply do not have access to a computer and, therefore, cannot benefit from these types of computer accounting software 1 0 p~ ~1~1 O IIID .
~ ven among those individuals and small businesses who own a computer and who have purchased accounting or fi n~n~
pl~nning software, research has shown that a significant percentage of them are not consistent with their inputting and reporting of check transactlons. Quite often, after several months of neglect these computer software users, faced with many hours of "catch-up" work, abandon their b~nkke~rin~ tasks altogether. The result is that the computer software goes largely unused, defeating the very purpose of budgeting and financial planning.
Other expenditure tracking systems have been proposed in which the bank checkr itself, can be labeled or marked by a bank customer with n~ expenditure categories. upon presentment of such a check for payment, the bank teller re-enters the expenditure category number in magnetic code("MICR"~ on the bottom of the check. ~he check is then processed using a MICR decoder. A centralized computer records the transaction amount and expenditure category number for each check and provides the customer with a periodic statement of expenditures. In this manner, the labor intensive step of re-entering expenditure account information into a computer is, in effect, shifted from the customer to the bank.
A drawback of these types of expenditure tracking systems, however, is that they are not well suited for individual and small busines~. Specifically, the numbers used to represent expenditure categories are not easily ~i ~
~ WO96/03719 5 5 PCT~S95110386 identifiable by customers as repres~nt;ng any particular type of expenditure. Rather, in order to record the ~L~' iate category number a customer i8 required to refer to a separ-ately recorded index or legend of accounts in order to match each number with its c~LL~b~onding expenditure category. This cross-referencing of expenditure categories is highly incon-venient where, for instance, the customer does not have convenient reference to the recorded legend at the time the check is made out and the transaction executed. In such cases the customer either guesses, or he simply does not record the expense at all. This can cause undesirable inaccuracies in the expenditure tracking system. Numbered expenditure categ-ories are simply not sufficiently intuitive or descriptive to allow the use of these types of expenditure tracking systems by the general banking public.
Another significant disadvantage with prior art expenditure tracking systems in general is that they cannot adequately account for ATM and POS transactions, which occupy an increasingly larger percentage of rher~;ng and money-market account transactions. To account for such transactions a customer must keep a copy of all receipts and then separately record them in either a written ledger or computer data base and reconcile these receipts with their bank statement at the end of each month or other f;n~nri~l period. Again, this 2S takes time and effort and can result in undesirable inaccuracies as customers fail to stay current with recorded expenditure information.
Each of the above prior art systems require bank customers and/or the bank itself to perform secondary data entry operations, either in a separate account ledger or via a computer or MICR encoder keypad, in order to provide accurate monitoring of expenditures. It would represent a significant advance in the art to provide an automated expenditure tracking system which eliminates the need for such secondary data entry. It would represent a further advance in the art to provide such a system that i8 easy and inexpensive to use, is intuitive and easy to understand even in cross-~t 95~4 W096/03719 ~ . PC~S95/ln386 linguistic envi~ without the need for special instructions or training, and that r-;n~a~n~ consistent reporting regardless of a customer' 8 level of diligence in recording individual expenditures.
SUMMARY 0~ THE INV~NTI0 The present invention comprises, in one ~oA;r~nt, a printed bank check having a plurality of easily recognizable graphic icons disposed thereon Le~L' ~r~ltat;ve of predetermined expenditure categories. ~ach icon i9 adapted to be marked by a customer and machine-read in order to track and record individual check transactions. Preferablyl each icon consists of an ~ cally designed pictorial representation of a particular object or idea which is familiar to the customer and which is associated with each type of expenditure.
Additional expenditure information may optionally be provided on the back of each check in order, for instance, to allow a bank customer to allocate a single check transaction between one or more expenditure categories or to record one or more deposits, as debired.
In another ~mhoA; ~, the present invention provides a novel printed graphic icon for ~nh~nr;ng the detectability of a mark made thereon. The icon is provided with a defined marking area intended to receive a customer~s mark. The periphery of the intended marking area is defined by a dark outer portion forming an outline or inverted silhouette of the icon design. $hadingr highlighting, and other details are provided within the inverted silhouette area using a light colored ink and~or tones, defining a relatively light inner portion. These details aesthetically enhance the icon design and provide improved recognition of the icon by a customer.
The light inner portion of the icon is selected to be below the threshold detection level of a scanner or other device used to scan the icon design into a computer imaging system such that only ~Ll~neoas marks made by a bank customer appear as dark areas within a pixel image of the intended marking area.
In another emkodiment the present invention provides a ! ~ ~ 2 1 ~ 5 9 5 4 ~ WO96/03~19 PCT~S95/1~38G
printed graphic icon adapted to be invisible to a scanner, yet readily recognizable to the human eye. The lcon is defined by an outer portion forming an outline or inverted silhouette of a desired icon design. Shading, highl ;ght;ng, and other details of the icon design are provided in an inner icon portion within the inverted silhouette. These details - aesthetically enhance the icon design to provide improved human recognition thereof. Both the outer and inner icon portions are printed or screened using a suitable "drop-out"
ink having a light absorptivity that is below a defined threshold detection level of a scanner such that any extraneous marks made on the icon will appear as dark contiguous pixels within a bi-level pixel image of the icon.
Optionally, "drop-out" icons may be enclosed within, a thin, black frame so that when scanned the resulting pixel image will reveal only the icon frame and any marks made therein.
In another : ho~ ~t, the present invention provides a novel method for detecting the presence of a mark placed over a printed graphic icon as provided in accordance with the present invention. The icon is scanned via a scanner or other device into a computer imaging system to produce a bi-level black and white pixel image of the icon. A mask having a size and shape corresponding to the dark outer portions of the icon design is placed over the pixel image of the icon such that it masks the entire pixel image outside of the intended marking area of the icon. A mark is detected if more than a predetermined number of contiguous dark pixels are detected within the 1~ ;n;ng pixel image, corresponding to the intended marking area of the icon.
In another Pmho~i ~, the present invention provides a novel method for detecting the presence of a mark placed over one of a number of printed graphic icons provided in an array.
~ The icon array is scanned via a scanner or other device into a computer imaging system. The computer registers the icon array on an x-y grid by recognizing and locating a target comprising one or more predetermined reference lines. A mark is detected in a particular icon location if more than a 2~ 1 9 5 ~ 5 4 W096l037l9 PCT~S95lln386 predetermined number of contiguous dark pixels are detected within a portion of the pixel image ccrrp~pnn~ing to the x-y location of the particular icon~
In another embodiment, the preeent invention comprises a system and method for automatically tracking expenditures using pictorial icons at the point of sale/payment represen-ting expenditure categories whlch can be marked or otherwise activated by a customcr to indicate a particular expenditure category. A bank customer selects the icon or icons which apply to the particular transaction for which the expenditure transaction is made. This information is recorded in a cumulative transaction record. Periodically, the transaction record is organized into a statement of expenditures broken down by expenditure category and amount which may be provided to the bank customer in the form of an end-of-month expenditure stat~ or electronic data downloaded via modem or other means to a home or business computer.
In another ~ t, the present invention comprises a system and method for processing bank checks of the type adapted to be marked by a ~ank customer to indicate a selected expenditure category COLL~L.. .n.1; ng to a particular check expenditure. 8asic check transaction information, such as the account number and the dollar amount of each bank check, is decoded using a MIC~ decoder. Checks are then scanned in 8ubstAnti~lly rapid succPRRion to generate a serie~ of binary data re~ eae.-tative of a pixel image thereof. An central processor manipulates the binary data to detect in each of a plurality of predetermining intended marking areas on the check the presence or absence of one or more marks indicative of particular expenditure categories selected by a bank customer. Transaction information is then recorded in a cumulative transaction record in association with each selected P~pPn~iture category corrp~pnn~ing to each particular check transaction. Periodically, the ~ransaction record is organized into a st~t~ of expenditures broken down by - expenditure category and amount which may be provided to the bank customer in the form of an end-of-month expenditure 2 i 9 5 q 5 4 ~ WO96/03719 PCT~S95110386 statement or electronic data downloaded via modem or other means to a home or business computer.
In another ~ ;r-ntl the present invention comprises a novel expenditure statement in which a pixel image of each payee name recorded on a bank check is reproduced directly on the expenditure statement in association with corr~pon~;ng transaction information, such as customer's account number, check transaction number and the dollar amount of the check.
Other features and advantages of the present invention will become readily apparent to persons skilled in the art having reference to the drawings herein and the detailed description that follows.
BRIEF 3ESCRIeTIQN QF T~E FIGURES
By way of example and to make the following detailed description more clear, reference is made to the ~ccompAnying drawings, of which:
FIGURE l is a view of the front side of a printed bank check having features of the present invention;
FIGURE 2 is a view of the back side of a printed bank check having optional features in accordance with the present invention;
FIGURE 3 is an enlarged view of the icon array 28 shown in FIGURE 1 illustrating in more detail a number of possible graphic icon designs that may be provided on a printed bank check in accordance with the present invention;
FIGURE 4 is an enlarged view of one embodiment of a printed icon having features of the present invention;
FIGURE 5 is an enlarged view of an alternative embodiment of a printed icon having features of the present invention, illustrating in more detail how the icon may be marked by a bank customer to indicate a selected expenditure category;
FIGURE 6 is a schematic diagram of an automated check expenditure tracking system having features of the present invention;
FIGURE 7 is a front view of an expenditure statement of the type generated by a check expenditure tracking system of the type shown in FIGURE 6, and having features of the present 9 5 9 ~; A
WO96~19 ~ r PCT~S9~llO~G
FIGURE 8 is a more detailed schematic diagram of the check expenditure tracking system of FIGURE 6;
FIGURE 9 is a more detailed schematic diagram of the image processing sub-routine 117 of FIGURE 8;
FIGURE 10 is a more detailed schematic diagram of the check amount capture sub-routine 118 of FIGURE 8;
FIGURE 11 is a more detailed schematic diagram of the amount verification sub-routine 120 of FI¢URE 8;
10FIGURE 12 is a more detailed schematic diagram of the payee box capture sub-routine 122 of FI~URE 8;
FIGURE 13 is a more detailed srb tic diagram of the icon array capture sub-routine 124 of FIGURE 8;
FIGURE 14 i6 a more detailed schematic diagram of the 15mark detection sub-routine 126 of FI~URE 8;
FIGURE 15 is a more detailed schematic diagram of the trAn~a~tion update sub-routine 121 of FIGURE 8;
FIGURE 16 is an enlarged view of the icon array of FIGURE
3 illustrating in more detail the preferred shading of the 20various icons;
FIGURE 1~ is a view of the icon array of FIG~RE 16 shown in actual prefe~red size;
FIGURE 18 is an enlarged vlew of an alternative em~odiment of a printed icon array having features of the 25present invention;
FIGURE 19 is an enlarged view of another alternative embodiment of a printed icon array particularly suited for bll~inPc~ use;
FIGURE 20 is a detailed view of a personal-si2ed printed 30bank check having features in accordance with the present invention, showing the preferred location of the icon array;
FIGURE 21 is a detailed view of a business-Eized printed bank check having features in accordance with the present invention, showing the preferred location of the icon array;
35FIGURE 22 is an enlarged view of an alternative embodiment of a printed graphlc icon having features in accordance with the present invention, showing how the icon ; . t ~ WO96/03719 ~ 9 5 4 r~
appears to the human eye ~FIGURE 22A) and to a bi-level scanner (FIGURE 22B);
FIGURE 23 i9 an enlarged view of another alternative : '_,fl; t of a printed graphic icon having features in accordance with the present invention, showing how the icon appears to the human eye (FIGURE 23A) and to a bi-level scanner (FIGURE 23B); and FIGURE 2g is a detailed schematic diagram of an alternative mark detection sub-routine 126' which may be substituted for the subroutine 126 of FIGURE 8.
1. Printed Bank Check FIGURE 1 is a view of the front side of a printed bank check B having features of the present invention. The check generally comprises a substrate 10 upon which is printed a plurality of boxes, lines, and spaces 12-24 for entering customary check-transaction information. An array of graphic icons 28 is provided for recording one or more expenditure categories which correspond to the particular transaction being made, as will be described in more detail later.
In accordance with industry custom a magnetic ink charac-ter recognition code ("MICR" code) 26 is printed at the bottom of the check substrate 10. The MICR code 26 c~nt~in~ machine readable information consisting of the bank routing number, customer account number, and the check transaction number.
The dollar amount of the check may also be recorded in MICR
code (not shown) on the check by a payee bank when the check is cashed or deposited by the payee. The MICR code 26 is used primarily in automated check clearing houses to route the check and charge it against the proper payor bank. It is also used by the payor bank to automatically credit and debit individual customer accounts and to periodically generate a statement of accounts identifying each customer~s transactions by check transaction number along with the rc--;n;ng balance ~ 35 of the customer's account.
The size and weight of the check substrate 10 may be varied as desired, but preferably conforms to one of several ?~ ~ 95~5~
WOgG/037l9 PCT~10386 well-known banking industry standards. For instance, a 24#
weiyht 7Q x 6 150 mm rectangular substrate 10 is convenient for personal use. A 24~ weight 3 75 mm x 210 mm check substrate 10 is convenient for certain business and professional use. For relatively high volume or s _ ~r controlled check writing it may be further convenient to provide multiple checks printed on a single perforated substrate that i3 particularly adapted for use with a computer controlled printer. Alternatively, it will be readily apparent to persons skilled in the art that virtually an infinite number of 6hapes and sizes of sllhs~r~ 10 may be used, as desired, while still enjoying the benefits of the present invention herein disclosed.
Optionally, the check substrate 10 may be further provided with a security pattern or other design disposed thereon for discouraging fraudulent reproduction of checks or providing an aesthetic or orni t~l check design. For instance, it will be seen that the check substrate 10 illustrated in FIGURE 1, has been lightly printed with the mark HOnTRACK~" in a repeating pattern covering substantially the entire front side of the substrate 10. ~t will be readily apparent to those skilled in the art that a wide variety of optional background design6 may be used, as desired, while still enjoying the benefits of the present invention herein disclosed.
As briefly noted above, a plurality of boxes, llnes, and spaces 12-24 are provided on the front side of the substrate 10 for entering customary check-transaction information. The current day and month may be entered on line 12, the year on line 14. The payee's name may be entered in the payee box 16.
The dollar amount of the check may be entered in arabic numerals in the amount box 18 and written out in long-hand on the verification line 20. The maker of the check signs on line 22. Notes or other extraneous information may be recorded on an optionally provided memo line 24.
The payee ~ox 16 i5 preferably adapted to be electron-ically scanned into a computer imaging system or other device "~ ~ 2~ 95954 ~ WO96/037l9 ~ PCT~Sss/10386 such that the text image within the box 16 can be captured in pixel form and reproduced, as desired, in an expenditure statement or other accounting statement provided to a bank customer. The particular size and shape of the payee box 16~ 5 may be varied, as desired, to provide a convenient area for recording the payee's name. The payee box 16 is preferably at least m1nir-lly sufficient to A_- ' te both hand-written and typed payee designations. A payee box having a height of 8 mm and a length of 75 mm for instance, provides a convenient size for most check-writing purposes. Other payee box ~ io~c may be used, as desired, while still enjoying the benefits of the present invention herein disclosed. The outer frame comprising the payee box 16 is preferably of relatively uniform line thickness and density. Optionally, it may be screened using a half-tone printing technique or other means, as desired, in order to lighten the outer frame. In this manner, when the check 8 is scanned into a computer imaging system the outline image of the payee box 16 can be filtered out using threshold imaging, as will be described in more detail later.
The amount box 18 is similarly adapted to be electron-ically scanned so that the text image within the box 18 may be captured in pixel form. Preferably a handwritten or typed dollar amount in the amount box 18 may be verified against the dollar amount c~tA;r~d in the MICR code 26 using a modified optical character recognition ~"3CRn) technique, as will be described in more detail later. As with the payee box 16, described above, the size and shape of the amount box 18 can be varied, as desired, but is preferably at least minimally sufficient to ac_ '-te both hand-written and typed dollar amounts. An amount box 18 having a height of about 6 mm and a length of about 25 mm provides a convenient size for most check-writing purposes. Alternatively, a larger or smaller amount box 18 may be provided, as desired, while still~ 35 enjoying the benefits of the present invention herein disclosed. The outer frame comprising the amount box 18 is preferably of relatively uniform line thickness and density.
1 Q ~q~A
~09~03719 ~ 5 Optionally, it may be screened using a half-tone printing technique or other means, as desired, in order to lighten the outer frame such that the outline image of the amount box 18 can be filtered out using threshold imaging, as will be described in more detail later.
An array of twenty-one unique graphic icons 28 is provided on the left-most side of the check, as shown. It will be appreciated that each cf the individual graphic icons in the icon array 28 represents a particular category or type of expenditure, 8uch as, for instance, automotive expenses, groceries, meals, etc. A customer desiring tD record a particular check expenditure marks the icon (or icons) in the icon array 28 that correspond to the particular expense for which the check payment is being made. The expenditure category information is thereby permanently .~colded on the check itself at the time the transaction is made.
One or more optional icon boxes, such as the circular box 30, may also be provided, as desired, to further characterize a given check e~penditure as being, for instance, either tax .o ~nct; hle or r~ dble. Such optional boxes may be located ~ 1y adjacent to the icon array 28, as shown, or, alternatively, at any convenient location on the check substrate lO that wou~d not encroach on other zones of the check that preierably conform to banking industry standards.
Any such optional icon boxes 30 may be provided with or without a corre~p~n~; ng icon design or text description, as desired.
The icon array 28 and any optLonal icon boxe~ 30 are preferably adapted to be scanned into a computer imaging system or other device so that the image can be processed in order to ascertain which icon(s), if any, have been marked.
This informaticn is then recorded in association with other information representative of the particular check trans-action, such as the customer account number, check transaction number and dollar amount of the check. A bank or processing center periodically organizes this recorded information into a atatement o~ expenditures or an accounting broken down by ; Q r ~
~ ~'096/1~3719 ' ~ ~ ~ J ~ _~ r PCTIUS95/103N6 expenditure category, check transaction number and amount.
Preferably, this is in the form of a monthly expenditure statement provided to the bank customer. Alternatively, it may be a statement of year-to-date expenditures, or any other breakdown of expenditures that a bank customer may find convenient or helpful for purposes of budgeting or f;nAn~jA1 planning. In this manner, it will be appreciated that each check expenditure made using a printed bank check in accord-ance with the present invention may be automatically tracked and recorded, as will be described in more detail later.
A customer desiring to purchase groceries at a grocery store, for instance, might write out a check for $50 to pay for the groceries, marking an icon on the check picturing a grocery cart or other indicia representative of grocery expenses. Once the transaction is completed and the check is presented for payment, the payor bank, a check clearing house or a designated processing center scans each check to deter-mine selected expenditure categories and records this information in ~q~n~iation with other basic information identifying the transaction. This may be done either before or after the check is paid and canceled, as desired.
For multiple purchases using a single check transaction customers may wish to allocate or "split'~ the transaction between two or more discrete expenditure categories. If, for example, the customer attends an educational luncheon which he pays for using a single check, the customer may wish to split the check expenditure between meal expenses and educational expenses. The customer may do this by placing an "X" or other mark on each icon in the icon array 28 that is applicable.
The check expenditure would then be automatically allocated e~ually among each expenditure category indicated.
On the other hand, a customer may not wish to split the check evenly. Assume, for instance, that a customer picks up a video cassette at the grocery store and pays for its rental fee along with his weekly groceries. The transaction should properly be recorded as partially attributable to groceries and partially attributable to personal entertainment ~Yp~n~
. ~ WO~6~371g ~ JJ'~ PC~IUS9~110386 Accordingly, an optional feature of the present invention is to provide on the back o~ a bank check as shown i~ FIGURE 1 a plurality of optional lines and boxes, as illustrated in FIGURE 2, for distributing a single check transaction between multiple expenditure categories.
FIGURE 2 is a view of the back side of a printed bank check 8 having this optional feature in accul~a1lce with the present invention. On the left side of the back of the check i8 provided a customary end~ area demarcated by the line 31, above which ~dvL_ ~s may be made. An empty space is preferably provided in the area i -';ately to the right of the end~_ L line 31 in order to ~ te bank processing information which may be sub3equently printed on the back of the check. Further to the right is provided a second array of twenty-one icons 32 corresponding to the icon array 2~3 shown in FI~URE 1. These icons in the array 32 may or may not be provided with COLL~ ~nn~;n~ graphic icon designs, as desired, depending upon the additional printing ~p~nqPq involved. Preferably, each icon box in the icon array 32 has a unique icon position number or letter assoc-iated with it, as shown, ccrr~pnn~ing to each particular expenditure category represented pictorially by corr~pnr~;
icons in the icon array 28 shown on the front of the check.
If a customer desires to allocate a particular check trAn~Ac~;on between two or more expenditure categories, the customer marks the box 34 indicating ~split check~' and enters the appropriate icon poS;t;nn numbers in the column of boxes 36 provided. Next to each icon position nu~ber, the customer then enters in the corre~ponding spaces 37 the dollar amount portion of the check transaction which is to be allocated to that particular expenditure category. This is repeated for each different expenditure category desired. The total is then added up and entered in the space 3B provided. This total will usually correspond to the amount recorded on the front of the check.
Optionally, it is further envisioned that split-check information may be recorded on any subsequent check used to ~ 1 0 ~ n ~ A
wos6/037ls ' ~ t 7 ~ 7 ~t r~ "I. ~
.: 17 pay for goods and/or services, as desired, provided that the check transaction to be split is sufficiently identified by date and dollar amount, as provided in the spaces 43 and 38, respectively. This feature is convenient, for instance, for hurried transactions where the bank customer does not have time or otherwise forgets to record check-split information on the back of a particular check. Advantageously, this feature allows the bank customer to record split-check information on any subsequent check, as desired, and the information will be Ant: tically entered by the expenditure tracking system. If necessary, optional spaces (not shown) may be provided on the back of the check for indicating the check transaction number of the particular check to be split. This is usually not nPrPS,qAry, however, since it is usually possible to identify the intended split-check according to transaction date and dollar amount.
Check deposits are handled in a similar fashion in that the back of any particular check may be used to record various deposits which the bank customer has previously made.
Accordingly, an array of optional deposit icons 40 is provided on the back of the check, as shown, and assigned a unique letter or number designating the 50urce of deposited funds.
Again, these icons in the array 40 may or may not be provided with oorresp~n~;ng graphic icon designs, as desired, depending upon the additional printing PYp~nqes involved and the desirability of using graphic images to designate the source of funds deposited. The customer marks the box 42 indicating that a deposit is being recorded. He then enters the appropriate deposit icon letter~s) in the column of boxes 34, designating the source of deposited funds, and enters the dollar amount of each check being deposited in the corres-ponding spaces 37 provided. The day, month and year of the deposit is entered in the boxes 43 provided. In an optional embodiment, it is further envisioned that the back of the check, itself, may be used as deposit slip.
Preferably, the back of the check is adapted to be scanned and processed subs~AntiAlly in the same manner as with WO 96/U3719 ~ PCI'IUS~51103~6 the front of the check. Specialized OCR software, such as that available ~rom Vision~hape~of Orange, CA, is used to analyze and~or read the hand-written leSters or numbers entered in the boxes 36 and dollar amounts entered in the corresponding spaces 37. Alternatively, the~e portions of the check may be processed and read manually by visual inspection of the back of the check itself or a pixel image thereof, as desired.
Advantageously, it will be appreciated that a bank customer using a printed bank check in accordance with the present invention can track his monthly expenditures without having to perform any secondary data entry steps. All of the expenditure category information may be recorded by the bank customer On the check, itself, contemporaneously with the check transaction.
ln an optional embodiment of the present invention, expenditure tracking information may be ~ directly from a bank or processing center, as desired, via modem or other means to a home or bu~inP~ tt~r for use with other a~ lnt;ng or expenditure tracking software. In this manner it will be appreciated that a bank customer can have the flexibility o~ using his favorite computer accQl-n~;ng program to budget and monitor expenditures without having to perform 3econdary data entry of check transactions. A wallet-size reference card showing icons and superimposed numbers may be further provided for later account adjustments using a telephone or computer network system, as desired, or for manually annotating receiptg o~ petty cash expenditures.
FIGURE 3 is an enlarged view of the icon array 2~ shown in FIGURE 1, illustrating in more detail a number o~ different possible graphic icon designs that may be provided on a printed bank check in accordance with the present invention.
Alternativelyr it is envisioned that bank checks having different types or numbers of icons may be provided, as desired, to suit the needs of particular customers according to whether, for instance, the customer is an individual, household, or business. For custom applications, it is W096rO3719 19 2 i ~954 Pcr/U~9s,l0386 further envisioned that customers will be able to choose from a predetermined selection of custom graphic icons, which are then arranged on a bank check, as desired. Certain bank customers will find it convenient to design their own icon array 28 when it is n~ceRsAry or desirable, for instance, to indicate special or unusual expenditures peculiar to that individual bank customer. In any event, it will be readily understood by those persons skilled in the art that a variety of graphic icon designs may be used on a printed bank check to represent any particular group of expenditure categories in accoLdallce with the present invention herein disclosed.
A convDnti~nAl 70 mm x 150 mm bank check can support an icon array 28 having a height "H" of about 50 mm and a width ~W~ of about 25 mm without encroaching into other zones of the check that preferably conform to banking industry standards, as illustrated in FIGURE I. Alternatively, other shapes or sizes of icon arrays 28 may be used, as desired, while still enjoying the benefits of the present invention.
The size and shape of individual icons within the icon array 28 may also be varied, as desired, but are preferably no smaller than about 5 mm x 5 mm in order to ensure ease of recognition by bank customers. The number of icons in the icon array 28 may be varied, as desired, while still enjoying the benefits of the present invention. For instance, it is believed that anywhere from about five to fifty and, more preferably, from about ten to thirty icons may be used to indicate various expenditure categories, as desired. In a particularly preferred ' ~ t, twenty-one icons each measuring 6.3 mm x 6.3 mm are arranged in three columns of seven rows each, as shown. This particular arrangement of icons is convenient for a wide variety of expenditure tracking purposes. For business checks, additional icons may be provided by adding one or two additional columns of seven icons each, as needed.
Individual icons in the icon array 28, shown in FIGURE 3, are preferably separated by a clear space of between about 0.5 mm and 1.25 mm vertically (Sv) and between about 1.25 mm and 2 ~ 95~54 WO g6/0371g ' ~ PCI'IIlS9~11038G
3.8 mm horizontally (Sh). More preferably, icon rows are separated by a vertical clear space Sv of about 0.85 mm and icon columns are separated by a horizontal clear space Sh of about 2.3 mm. It will be appreciated that these clear spaces provide a buffer for marks which may extend beyond a particular icon box. A wider horizontal clear space Sh separating each column of icons in the icon array 28 is preferred in order to provide additional room forl _-nRating any horizontal image distortion caused by horizontal feeding of checks through a high-speed scanner, as will be described in more detail later. Alternatively, for vertical feeding of checks through a high-speed scanner it may be desirable to provide a wider vertical clear space S~ between each row of icons in the icon array 28 in order to allow for ~-n~tion of any vertical image distortion.
The icon array Z8 shown in FIGURE 3 is typical for individuals and household bank customers. ~hile the individ-ual icons shown in FIGURE 3 are particularly suited for indicating corresp~n~ing expenditure categories, as will be described below, it will be readily understood by those persons skilled in the art t.hat a wide variety of other icon designs may be used, as desired/ to indicate the same or similar expenditure categories while still enjoying the benefits of the present invention. A brief description of the icons shown in PIGURE 3 is pro~ided below for purposes of illustration only.
Beginning in the upper left hand corner, icon 45 illustrates a sun setting behind the front end of an auto-mobile. This icon design may correspond, for ;nR~n~, to automotive expenditures, such as routine maintenance, oil changes, gasoline, etc. Alternatively, any other image associated with automotive expenses may be used to represent such expenditures, such as an oil can~ a gas pump, or the like. To the right, icon 46 illustrates a basket-type grocery cart with wheels. This icon design may correspond, for instance, to expenditures made for groceries, laundry detergent and other items typically purchased at a grocery ~ W0961133719 ~ 2Iq5~54 r~"
store. Alternatively, any other image associated with groceries or grocery stores may be used, such as a loaf of bread, a can of soda, etc., to represent such expenditures.
Further to the right, icon 47 shows a short-sleeve sports shirt. This may correspond, for instance, to expenditures made for purchasing and cleaning of clothing. Alternatively, separate icons may be used to represent expenditures for clothes purchases and for cleaning services, as desired.
In the second row first column, icon 48 shows a gift box wrapped with a bow. This icon design may correspond, for instance, to expenditures made for gifts and presents.
Alternatively, any other image associated with gift giving, such as a birthday cake, a Christmas tree, etc., may be used to represent such expenditures. To the right, icon 49 shows a cross. This icon design may correspond, for instance, to expenditures made for medical services. Alternatively, any other image associated with medical services, such as a doctor, nurse, stethoscope, etc., may be used to represent such expenditures. Further to the right, icon 50 shows a picture of a capitol building superimposed on a large "T".
This icon design may correspond, for instance, to expenditures made for income taxes or FICA wi~hh~l~;ngc. Alternatively, any other image associated with payment of taxes or social security, such as a representative tax form, tax collector, Uncle Sam, etc., may be used to represent such expenditures.
In the third row first column, icon 51 shows a small house having a window and a door. This icon design may correspond, for instance, to housing expenditures, such as a mortgage or rent payments. Alternatively, any other image associated with housing expenditures, such as a deed, a bank, a landlord, etc., may be used to indicate such expenditures.
To the right, icon 52 shows a hammer extending into a circular ~ background. This may correspond, for instance, to expenditures made for routine home maintenance, home improve-ments, tools, etc. Alternatively, any other image associated with home -~;rt~n~nce and il..~LU~ ~,C, such as a paint brush, handyman, etc., may be used to indicate such expenditures.
2~ 95954 W096/037t9 -~ PCT~S~103 Further to the right, icon 53 shows a lamp on a table in front of a picture frame. This icon design may cuLL~olld, for instance, to expenditures made for home fnrn;~hing~, household decorating expenses and the like. Alternatively, any other image ~R~iAt~ with furniture or home decorating, such as a lounge recliner, wall paper, carpeting, etc., may be used to represent such expenditures.
In the fourth row first column, icon 54 shows a tele-phone. This icon design may correspond, for instance, to expenditures made for phone services. Alternatively, separate icons may be used, as desired, to indicate both local and long distance as well as cellular phone expenses. To the right, icon 55 show6 an electrical plug of the type found on ~mall electrical appliances. This icon design may oorrespond, for instance, to expenditures made for electricity or electrical service. Alternatively, any other image associated with electricity or electrical service, such as an electrical socket, a lightning bolt, or the like, may be used, as desired, to represent such expenditures. Further to the right, icon 56 shows a charge or credit card having a circle design, a magne~ic strip and a charge number. This icon design may correspond, for instance, to expenditures made for credit card or charge carda. Alternatlvely, the front of an actual credit or charge card, such as a Visa~ or Mastercard~, may be u8ed to 1nA;r~te 5uch expenditures.
In the fifth row first column, icon 57 shows a set of eating utensils. This icon design may correspond, for instance, to expenditures made for meals or restaurant services. Alternatively, any other image a~sociated wlth restaurant services, such as a waitress, maitre d' or the like, may be used to .epL~sellt such expenditures. To the right, icon 58 shows a cap and tassel of the type used in graduation , ~ t ceL~ --ie~. This icon design may cuL,e~vlld, for instance, to expenditures made for educational purposes, such as college tuition, seminars, and similar expenditures. Alternatively, any other image a8sociated with educational expenses, such as books, calculators, computers ~ .; ' s ~ 9~4 ~ W096/037l9 ~ PCT~S9~/10386 and the like, may be used, as desired, to represent such expenditures. Further to the right, icon 5~ shows a theater mask. This icon design may correspond, for instance to entertAl L expenses such as movies, theater, comedy clubs and the like. Alternatively, any other image associated with entertainment, such as a movie projector, a circus big-top, a martini, etc., may be used to represent such expenditures, as desired.
In the sixth row first column, icon 60 shows an open hand extending into a light circular background. This icon design may correspond, for instance, to expenditures made for charitable purposes. Alternatively, any other image associated with charity or charity fund-raisers, such as a homeless person, Shriners cap or a United Way symbol, may be used to represent such expenditures, as desired. To the right, icon 61 shows an airplane ARr~n~; ng into the sunset.
This icon design may correspond, for instance, to expenditures for travel, such as air travel, cruises, trains, etc.
Alternatively, any other image associated with traveling or vacations, such as a cruise ship, a train, a map or the like, may be used, as desired, to represent such expenditures.
Further to the right, icon 62 shows a large dollar sign within a light circular background. This icon design may correspond, for instance, to expenditures made for investment purposes.
Alternatively, any other image associated with investments, such as a diamond, a ticker tape machine, etc., may be used to represent such expenditures, as desired.
The bottom row of icons 63-65 are special function icons provided for added check-writing flexibility. The two "star"
icons 63 and 64 are user-definable icons. Icon 63 is a dark star and icon 64 is a light star, as shown. These icons may correspond, for instance, to a particular type of expenditure transaction that does not readily fall within one of the other expenditure categories indicated. These may be expenditures peculiar to a particular bank customer or they may be unusual, one-time-only expenses such as, for example, wedding expenses or legal expenses. Alternatively, any other symbol, such as ~O9~i71g ~ 2i 95954 PCT~S95/103X6 letters, numbers, etc. may be used to indicate these user-definable expenditure categories.
Tc the right, icon 65 shows a toggle switch. This icon design may be used, for instance, in a similar fashion to a function key (i.e., S~IFT/ALT/GTRL) on a computer keypad, to indicate an ~ nA~d or alternative li~t of icon expenditure category choices which may be recorded on a separate card or known to the bank customer personally. For example, an unmarked toggle icon 65 may indicated household expenditures, while a marked toggle icon may indicate bncinPq~ expenditures, each according to its own particular icon array, as desired.
Alternatively, the toggle icon 65 may be used to indicate, for example, whether the check expenditure was made by the husband or wife in the case of a jointly held checking account. For instance, checks with the toggle icon 65 marked may ;n~;~ate that the particular check expenditure was made by the husband.
An unmarked toggle icon 65 may indicate that the check expenditure was made by the wife. Alternatively, any other image associated with this or any other desired function made be used as desired, such as a ~T" or a picture of a ~'S~IFT" or "ALT" key, etc.
FIGURE 16 is an enlarged view of the icon array o~ FIGURB
3 illustrating in more detail the preferred shading of the various icons. FIGURE 17 is a view of the icon array of FIGURE 16 8hown in actual preferred size.
FIGURE 18 iB an enlarged view of an alternative embodiment of a printed icon array having features of the present invention. The icon array of FIGURE 18 is generally similar to that illustrated and described above in connection with FIGURE 3. Those skilled in the art will recogni~e, for instance, that the icon 445 in FIGURE 18 corresponds to the car icon 45 shQwn in FIGURE 3, although the shape and shading of the icons are different. Similarly the t~ h~ne icon 455 in FIGURE 18 c~l.e~ d~ to the icon 54 in FIGU~E 3, although the shape, shading and positioning of the icons are different.
The variety of icons illustrated demonstrates the flexibility involved in selecting different icons to suit g s4 ~ WOg6/03719 /; ~ i s~ 25 ~ 3,~
individual customer needs. A brief description of several of the more unique icons shown in FIGURE 18 is provided below for purposes of illustration only. Beginning in the top row, right-most column, icon 447 shows the silhouette of children.~ 5 This icon may correspond, for instance, to expenditures related to child rearing or day care costs. Alternatively, any other image associated with child rearing expenses, such as a baby crib or cradle, crying baby, pacifier, etc., may be used to represent expenses related to child rearing.
In the second row down, second column from the left, icon 449 shows a dog on a leash. This icon design may correspond, for instance, to expenditures related to pet care or veterinary services. Alternatively, any other image associated with peta or veterinarian services, such as a goldfish in a bowl, a bird cage, dog bone, etc., may be used to represent such expenditures, as desired. To the right, icon 450 shows a coin. This icon design may correspond, for instance, to small household expenditures, such as for light bulbs, household cleaners, etc. Alternatively, any other image ~so~inted with small household expenditures, ~uch as a thumbtack, tape dispenser, scissors, bleach bottle, etc., may be used to represent such expenditures, as desired.
In the fifth row down, second column from the left, icon 458 shows a folded dollar bill. This icon design may correspond, for instance, to expenditures related to a cash allowance, discretionary ,5p~nA; ng money, or mis~ell~n~us purchases. Alternatively, any other image associated with allowance or discretionary spending, such as an open wallet, purse, etc., may be used to represent such expenditures, as desired.
In the bottom row, right-most column, icon 465 shows a portion of a rising stock investment curve. This icon design may correspond, for instance, to expenditures made for investment purposes. Alternatively, any other image associated with investments, such as a diamond gem, a ticker tape machine, a stock certificate, etc., may be used to repre-sent such expenditures, as desired.
WO g6/03719 . ~ 2 ~ 5 5 ~ 5 4 FIGURE 19 ~hows an enlarged view of another alternatiYe ~mho~; t of a printed icon array having features of the present invention particularly suited for business use. The individual icons therein preferably represent the corres-ponding expenditure categorie6 set forth in TABLE 1, below,with icon positions 1-28 indicated from left to right and top to bottom. Alternatively, those skilled in the art will readily appreciate that a variety of icon designs may be used to represent business expenditure categories, as desired.
~AB~E 1 ICON # ESIGN EXPENSE
~ Dollar Bill Net Payroll 2 Dome w/ Dollar Bill Payroll Taxes 3 Boxes Supplies
4 ~ard Hat Outside Services/
Contract Labor T~rget Client Costs 6 ~gAphnn~ Advertising/Promotion 7 Auto Vehicle Expense 8 Forklift Equipment g Umbrella Insurance Brief Case Prof~s~nnAl 9ervices 11 ~ouse Dwelling Rent 12 Ha~mer Repairs/~Aint~nAn~e 13 Desk Office Expen8e 14 Dome Taxes Alrplane Travel 16 ~ork/Spoon Meals/Entert~; ~
17 :Telephone Telephone 18 ~lectric Plug Utilities 19 White Board Prof~s;~n~l Growth ~,.~e,~ d ~i~ n~ou8 21 Stock Chart Investments/Assets 22 Bank Debt/Mortgage 23 Bucket Owner Draw 24 Recycle Sign R~ ~bles NUMBER 1 User Def ned 26 NUMBER 2 User Def ned 27 NUMBER 3 User Def_ned 28 N~MBER 4 User Def ned Although the particular icons shown in FIGURES 3, 18 and 19 are preferred for indicating hou~ehold and business type expenditures, it will be readily appreciated by those skilled in the art that any number of various graphic icon designs may be used to represent the same or similar expenditure ~ WO96/03719 categories. In other words, icons and corrp~p~ndi ng categories may be changed to accommodate the needs of particular bank customers. It is further envisioned that different sets of icons may be provided to meet the needs of ~ 5 different types of households. For instance, a dual income couple with no children may have different expenditure tracking requirements than a family of five, or a single person in college, for instance. In an alternative embodiment, checks are printed with custom icons selected by bank customers from a pre-determined list according to their own individual needs. In that case, a bank or processing center scanning the checks would preferably record selected icons and corr~cp~nd; n5 expenditure categories for each individual bank customer.
FIGURE 20 is a detailed view of a personal-sized printed bank check illustrating the preferred plA~ L and dimensions of an icon array 28 relative to the borders of the check.
These dimensions preferably conform to well-known industry standards for reader/sorter equipment such as the IBM 3890 XP
(image enabled) or BTI 5500 reader/sorter. An icon array 28 for a conventional personal-sized bank check will have a preferred height "H" of up to about 55 mm and a preferred width ~W~ of up to about 24 mm as illustrated in FIGURE 20.
The individual icons in the icon array 28 preferably measure up to about 6.3 mm x 6.3 mm square (C and D) and are preferably separated by a clear space of between about 0.5 mm and about 2 mm ~ertically ~Sv) and between about 1.25 mm and 3.8 mm hori~o~tAlly (Sb). More preferably, icon rows are separated by a vertical clear space Sv of about 1.75 mm and icon columns are separated by a horizontal clear space Sh of about 2.4 mm.
The icon array 28 is preferably spaced about 6.3 mm ~B) from the left edge of the bank check. Preferably the bottom row of icons is positioned about 11.5 mm IE) from the bottom edge of the check, as shown. For a personal-sized bank check the icon array 28 is preferably spaced about 3.2 mm (A) from the top edge of the bank check. Preferably, a minimum space W096/U3719 ~ ~ ~21 ~5q54 r~u~
of about 3.8 mm (I) i5 provided between the icon array 28 and other writing zones on the check face.
Business-sized bank checks may a~ te a larger icon array 23, as shown in FIGURE 21. A typical icon array 28 for a business-Yized bank check will have a pre~erred height "H"
of up to about 55 mm and a preferred width (W~ of up to about 32.5 mm as illustrated in FIGURE 21. In the preferred embodiment shown twenty-eight icons are arranged in four columns of sèven rows each. The icon array 28 in FIGURE 21 is preferably spaced about 9.5 mm (A) irom the top edge of the bank check. All other icon array dimensions are preferably the same as described above in connection with FIGURE 20.
2. ~r;nted Gra~hic Icon Preferably, the icons 45-65 shown in FIGURES l and 3, the icons 445-465 shown in FIGURF 18 and the icons shown in FIG~RE
19 are printed using a novel techni~ue that provides an icon having not only good image detail and aesthetic appeal, but also ~nh~nr~d detectability of a mark made thereon by a bank customer. It will be iurther understood, that while the present invention is descrlbed in the context of a printed bank check, it is envisioned that icons con~tructed in accordance with the present invention may provide similar advantages and benefits in a wide variety of other appl;~nt1on~, such as in public opinion polling, ~oting, surveys, ef~n~ zed testing, e~c.
FIGURE 4 is an enlarged view of a printed graphic icon having features of the present inventio~. The icon 46 generally comprises a relatively dark, preferably solid black, outer portion 74 and a relatively light inner portion 75, as shown in FIGURE 4A. The dark outer portion 74 is preferably sufficiently dark such that its light absorptivity falls above a predetermined threshold level. The light inner portion 75 is preferably~ sufficiently light such that its light absorpti~ity falls below a predetermined threshold level. A
mark is be detected by R~nn1ng the icon 46 and applying threshold imaging (described later) to obtain a bi-level pixel image thereof, as illustrated in FIGURE 4B. Any mark made on ' .~' 2 ' 95954 ~ WO96/0371g PCT~S95/l0386 the icon would then appear as dark pixels within a pre-determined ;nt~nde~ marking area 77. A substantially all white intended marking area 77, as shown in FIGURE 4C, indicates that no mark has been detected.
~ 5 The particular absorptivity levels selected for the light and dark portions of the icon will depend, among other things, on the sensitivity of a scanner used to scan the each icon, the aesthetic appearance of the icons, as well as the inherent limitations of the particular printing process selected. It will be appreciated that a higher absorptivity will produce a darker appearing icon. Lower absorptivity will produce a lighter appearing icon. For the light inner portion of the icon, an absorptivity of between about 0.10 and 0.50 and, more preferably, about 0.15, is preferred and provides a convenient , _, !ce between the competing design objectives indicated above. The dark outer portion is preferably as dark as possible, having an absorptivity that is at least greater than about 0.75 and, more preferably, greater than about 0.90.
Sufficient tolerance is preferably provided to accommodate for any possible variations in printing ink density, color, printing conditions, or the substrate itself. A tolerance level of about plus or minus 10~ produces adequate results under most printing conditions. Alternatively, higher or lower absorptivity or tolerance levels may be used, as desired, while still enjoying the benefits of the present invention as disclosed herein.
It will be appreciated that providing an icon with light and dark portions, as described above, provides a high degree of user recognition and also dramatically ~nh~n~c the detect-ability of a mark made within the defined marking area 77, as will be described in more detail later. It will be appreciated that user recognition of icons is critically important, particularly in cross-linguistic environments.
Preferably the dark outer portion 74 of the icon 46 completely encloses and defines an inverted silhouette of the particular icon design, as shown in FIGURE 4P, in this case a grocery cart. The ;rt~n~Pd marking area 77 is further defined within ~ 5 ~ 5 4 Wo96/03~19 PCT~S95~ ~6 ~0 this inverted sllhouette area, as shown in FIGURE 4C, and preferably Pnl ~ses a relatively large, centrally disposed portion of the light inner portion 75 of the icon ~6, as shown.
Image detailing, such as shadowing and highlighting 78, i8 preferably provided within the light inner portion 75 of the icon 46, as shown in FIGURE 4A. These embellishments aesthetically enhance the icon and provide improved recog-nition of each particular icon design. Preferably, this image ~t~;F~ng 78 is printed using one or more light colored inks which are screened using a half-tone printing process or other means, as desired, such that the light absorptivity of the light inner portion 75 remains below the aforementioned threshold absorptivity level. This ensure~ that any such detailing 78 will 'rdrop out" of a scanned pixel image of the icon 46 or may be filtered out or removed using threshold imaging, as will be described in more detail later.
Choice of color, use of dithering screens and very thin lines can all be used to decrease the light absorptivity of the detailing 7B, as needed, to ensure that it consistently drops out of the scanned image. It is particularly convenient to use certain printing inks referred to in the printing trade as ~spot~ colors. These printing inks possess a ~uality whereby the ahade and intensity of the color remain substantially constant from print run to print run. Using spot colors for the detailing 78 ensures that these embellish-ments will drop aut consistently from one icon printing run to the next. For lnet~nrel a Kramer Process Blue ink screened with a density of between about 10% and 50~ and, more preferably, between about 20~ and 35% on a light colored 9ubstrate produces acceptable results ~or detailing 78.
Alternatively, a wide variety of colors, screen densities and substrates may be used while still en30ying the benefits of the invention a herein disclosed.
It will be understood by those skilled in the art that conventional screening produces a printed image that is composed of a uniform array of small dots. For optimal ? "~ ~ 95954 WO 96/0371g PCINS9S/10386 results, it is preferred to arrange this array of dots in a slightly canted or non-uniform position with respect to a scanner used to scan the icon image. This ensures that uniform rows or columns of dots will not register simul-taneously with the scanner~s sensor array. Advantageously,this increases the probability that the detailing 78 will consistently drop out of a scanned image. Accordingly, the screen is preferably canted by between about 30 and 60 degrees and, more preferably, by about 45 degrees from horizontal.
Alternatively, the ~t~;lirg 78 may be screened such that the individual dots comprising the detailing 78 are arranged in a random or substantially non-uniform pattern, as desired.
The area ratio of light to dark portions of the icon 46 may be varied as desired, although a light/dark ratio of between about 2:1 and 1:2 and, more preferably, about l:1 is preferred for most icon designs. It will be understood that for a 1:1 light/dark ratio, about 50S of the icon will be comprised of light portions and about 50S of the icon will be comprised of dark portions. Alternatively, larger or smaller light/dark area ratios may be used, as desired, while still enjoying the benefits of the present invention. An optional black outer frame 79 may be provided around the periphery of the icon g6, as desired, in order to provide a defined area within which the graphic icon 46 is fully contained. This frame 79 and the white space on either side of the frame 79 provides a convenient reference for locating, scaling and aligning icons, as will be described in more detail later.
As ~; nn~ above, a mark placed on an icon in accordance with the present invention is detected by scanning the icon 46 and then applying threshold imaging to obtain a bi-level pixel image of the icon, as shown in EIGURES 5A and 5B. Threshold imaging is a well known image processing techni~ue that basically converts a pixel image in the form of a plurality of analog or digital readings of light absorptivity or reflectivity, into a bi-level pixel image in which individual pixels are either black ~"1") or white ~"0").
slack is arbitrarily defined as a light absorptivity reading
5 9 5 ~
above a predetermined threshold level, and white i9 arbitrarily defined as a light absorptivitY reading below a predetermined threshold level. It will be appreciated that ~absorptivity~ is simply another way to de3cribe the light reflectivity of a particular substrate surface at a deaired wavelength. Either term may be used to describe measured light reflectance, but absorptivity will be used here for convenience in later discussions. ~ight absorptivity readings falling above the black/white threshold appear ag black pixels. Absorptivity readings falling below this threshold level appear as white pixels.
Threshold imaging may occur in the scanner itself, such as in a bi-level image scanner, for instance. In that ca6e, the black/white threshold corresponds to the inherent threshold detection level of the scanner for discerning black from white. This may be adjustable, 8~r~n~ing upon the particular scanner. Preferably, however, a grey-scale scanner is used to capture the icon image in various shades of blackr ~hite and grey. Threshold imaging is then applied in a separ-ate computer imaging system or other image processing devicein order to obtain a black and white bi-level pixel image suitable for detecting marks made on the icon.
Advantageously, in that case the black/~hite transition or threshold detection level may be conveniently calibrated in the computer imaging sy8tem software or p~ ;ng~ again, depending upon the particular device.
Preferably icons in accordance with the present invention are adapted to be scanned using a drop-out blue scanner.
Alternatively, other wavelengths of light or non-visible 3~ radiation may be used, as de~ired, to achieve the benefits of the present invention as taught herein. For instance, it may be desirable in certain applications to use near-visible infrared, ultra-violet or broad-band visible light. In that case, the absorptivity of light and dar~ portions of the icor.
will be selected having reference to those particular wavelengths. Cptionally, any number or combination of colored filters may be used for icon sC~nn;n~ as aesired, to achieve ~W O 96/03719 PC~rlUS9S110386 a particular desired result or effect as taught herein.
FIGURE 5 is an enlarged view of an alternative ~ -t of an icon printed in accordance with the present inveneion, illustrating how the icon may be marked by a user. Like numbers are ; nt~n~lP~l to correspond to like characteristics or features of the icon, although the particular shape or form of the icon 45 may be different, as shown. The mark 84 is a typical type of mark which may be placed on an icon constructed in accordance with the present invention. It is o an '~X~ located mostly within the outer icon frame 79, but perhaps partially extending out of the frame, as shown. It may be seen that the center of the mark ~34 is located approximately within the intended marking area 77, which in this case, roughly corresponds to the shape of the inverted silhouette formed by the dark outer portion 74. It may be appreciated that the mark 84 produces a relatively low contrast with the dark outer portion 74 of the icon 45 and a relatively high contrast with the light inner portion 75, including detailing 78, as illustrated in FIGURE 5A.
Advantageously, this dramatically ~nhAn~s the detectability of the mark 84 within the marking area 77, as will be l A i n~d.
The mark 84 is detected by electronically masking the dark outer portions 74 of the bi-level image shown in FIGURE
5B with a template or mask 86 that has an open area (within the dashed lines) corr~r~n~;ng roughly to the size and shape of the intended marking area 77. Preferably, this is done electronically in a computer imaging processing system, as will be explained in more detail later. Preferably, the open area of the mask 86 is somewhat smaller than the corresponding intended marking area 77 BO that a degree of image tolerance is thereby provided for slight variances and misalignment of the mask 86 and the icon 45. Image tolerance may be provided uniformly around the open area of the mask 86, substantially as shown or, more preferably, the mask is adjusted by trial and error testing so as to provide larger tolerances in certain "problem" areas and smaller tolerances in other areas.
~; ~ 2~ 959~4 WO g6103~19 ' '' PCT/I~S9511n386 Advantageously, this maximizes the size of the mask within the intended marking area in order to provide optimal dynamic range of mark detection. Alternatively, it will be readily apparent to tho~e skilled in the art that a variety of mask shapes and sizes may be used, as desired, while still enjoying the benefits of the present invention as herein disclo3ed.
It will be appreciated that once the known dark portions of the icon 4~ have been masked out, all that remains of the original icon image are the white pixels corresponding to the light inner portion 75 of the icon. Any ,. ining contiguous dark pixels within the open area of the mask 86 are then counted and compared to a predetermined threshold number to determine whether a mark has been detected. Preferably, filtering is uaed to remove spurious "noiseN in the pixel image before mark detection is attempted. This noise may appear, for instance, ae speck3 or dots in the pixel image.
FIGURE 22 is an enlarged view of another alternative ' _';r~n~ of a graphic icon having feature3 of the present invention. The icon 464 generally comprises an outer portion 474 ~fin;ng an inverted silhouette of a desired icon design, in this case a credit card having a magnetic strip. The outer icon portion 474 is preferably printed in a solid color using a suitable drop-out ink, as will be described in more detail below. An inner icon portion ~75 is provided within the silhouette area defined by the outer icon portion ~74.
various graphic details 47~ are providing within the inner icon portion 47~, as shown, further defining the icon design and ~nh~n~ing human recognition thereof. The graphic details 478 are preferably also pri~ted in drop-out ink using any one 3~ of a nu~ber of well-known half-tone screening techniques such that they appear lighter than the outer icon portion 474. The resulting icon 464 has an overall aesthetically pleasing appearance, ~nh~n~ed user recognition of the icon design and improved machine detection of marks made thereon.
The light inner icon portion 475 also provides a target marking area for providing maximum contrast with a mark made thereon by a user so that the user can readily see when the ~ WO96/037l9 ~ 9 5 ~ 5 4 PCT~SgSII0386 1' 35 icon has been adequately marked. Preferably, the inner icon portion 475 has only minimal or no shading 478 such that the open area therein i8 as large as possible for .onhnn~; ng mark contrast and improving user recognition thereof. Preferably, less than about 25~ and, more preferably, less than about 10 of the inner icon area 475 comprises shading 478. A thin, black frame 479 may be provided around the outer icon portion 474, as shown, to further define the ;nt~n~ marking area.
The frame 479 preferably measures about 6.4 mm x 6.4 mm sguare and is at least 0.7 points (0.25 mm) thick.
As indicated above, the entire icon 464 (with the exception of the optional black outer frame 479) is printed using a suitable drop-out ink. Preferably, a suitable drop-out ink has a spectral absorptivity or "print contrast signal"
("PCS") of about 0.40 or less. PCS can be measured on well-known commercially available test eguipment eguipped with a filter having a peak spectral response at 5550 angstroms (555 nanometers) and a one-half peak spectral response at 5100 to 6100 angstroms (510 to 610) nanometers.
A wide variety of suitable drop-out inks may be used to practice the present invention, as shown in TAi3LE 2 below.
Color Desc. Modifier N .'P~ .llle No. PCS< PCS<
.15 .25 Yellow Basic Yellow, 012 X
Process Ycllow X
100-102, 106-109, 113-115 X
120-123, 1205-1225, 127-129 X
Yellow-Orange 116, 130, 136, 1365 X
Orangc Basic 021 X
Rcd Basic 032 X
Bssic Warm Rod X
Bei~e-Oran~e 141, 148, 1485, 1495 X
142, 149, 1505 X
Bei~e-Red 155, 156, 1555-1575 X
157, 158, 1585 X
Red 162, 163, 1625, 1635, 169, 170 X
176, 177, 1765, 1775, 1767 X
9 r~ c~ r3 4 Wo~6~371~ PCT~S~110386 Red-Pink 182, 183, 1895~ 196, 203, 217 X
183, 190, 1905, 197, 210, 223 X
Purple 230, 23B5, 243, 250 X
231, 236, 251 X
Violet-Blue 2706 X
Green 379, 386, 387 X
380, 388 X
Green~Yellow 393, 394, 395, 3935, 3945, 3955 X
u . . ., 461 X
Florescent Grn, 802-80B,810-812 X
Yel, Ora, Red These colored inks are available from any number of well-known large commercial printing supply companies. The preferred range of colors or combinations of colors for providing both drop-out c~p~h;lity and good aesthetic contrast will have a PCS of between about 0.05 and 0.25. The more preferred range providing the most contrast to the human eye and yet retaining a drop-out c~p~hility will fall between the PCS scale from about 0.15 to Q.25. These preferred colors are indicated in TABLE 3 below:
T~BI~E 3 Colox p~ntone Nu1~2Ç~
Beige-Orange 142, 149, 1505 Beige-Red 157, 158, l5B5 ~ed 164, 1645, 178, 1785, 1767 Red-Pink 183, 190, 1905, 197, 210, 223 Z5 Purple 231, 236, 251 Violet-Blue 2706 Green 380, 388 Beige-Brown 460 Fluorescent 802-806, 810-812 The most preferred color is Purple Pantone #251. This color has a PCS of 0.23 and provides optimal contrast and aesthetic appeal for most applications.
As indicated above, the outer icon portion 474 and the inner icon portion 475 are preferably printed using a drop-out ink having a PCS of less than about O.4. FIGURE 22 ~ WO96/0371~ ' ~ 2 ~ 9 5 9 5 4 rCT~5~5,l0386 illustrates how the icon 464 appears to a scanner having a threshold PCS detection level above about 0.40. As shown, the entire icon 464 ~with the exception of the outer frame 479) is invisible to the scanner. Any marks made on the icon 464 will readily appear in a bi-level pixel image of the icon 464 as dark contiguous pixel~ disposed within the dark outer frame 479. Those skilled in the art will readily appreciate that a pixel image of an array of such icons 464, reproduced on a bank statement for example, will reveal the relative positions of each icon by the outer frame 479 so that a bank customer can visually identify any marks made thereon. Alternatively, the black outer frame 479 may be omitted, as illustrated in FIGURE 23A, such that the entire icon 464' will be invisible to a scanner as illustrated in FIGURE 23B.
~aving thus described a printed bank check and graphic icon in accordance with the pre ent invention, attention will now be directed to a preferred method and apparatus in accordance with the present invention for automatically tracking check expenditures using the above-described printed bank checks and graphic icons.
3. Ex~enditure Trackina Svstem and Method In accordance with one preferred ~ of an expenditure tracking system and method of the present invention, checks are sorted and processed electronically using a scanner and ,: _t~ imaging system capable of discerning which of a plurality of icons have been marked by a customer. A computer software routine is implemented by the computer imaging system or other computer image processor to detect particular marked icon(s). Marked icon(s) are then translated into corresponding expenditure categories which are stored in a transaction record in association with other information representative of each check transaction.
FIGURE 6 is a schematic illustration of one ' ';~ of an expenditure tracking system in accordance with the present invention. The expenditure tracking system comprises a MICR
decoder 104, a scanner 106, and a central processor 108. A
printer 110 or other output means may be provided, as desired, W096/0371g ~ 95~54 pcT~995/l038 but is not n~r~sAry to practice the invention herein disclosed.
3ank checks 8 are drawn via conventional high-speed check handling equipment shown here schematically as comprising conveyor belt 102, through a MICR decoder 104 and a scanner 106. For cont;nllnl~R operation, checks are fed through the expenditure tracking system on a substantially continuous basis as they come in. More preferably, however, the system i9 operated in a batch mode whereby stacks of checks are inserted into the r~r~;n~ry, shown, and proce~sed in a batch mode with a transaction record being generated and stored for each batch run.
Preferably, the MICR decoder 104 and scanner 106 are adapted to decode and scan bank checks while they are fed through hori7~n~ y on edge, as shown. Commercially available MICR decoders and scanners are capable of handling up to 60,000 checks per hour, ~p~n~;ng upon the particular machine and the complexity of the check image to be scanned.
A ~EC Kiensel co~bination scanner and computer imaging system, available from ~igital ~ Corporation, for instance, provides a convenient scanner 106. A variety of other high-speed scanners are commercially available from such manufacturers as NCR, Kodak and Unisys, and may be used, as desired, to practice the present invention. Alternatively, it will be appreciated thatl ~r~n~ins upon the speed and volume of throughput of checks processed by the expenditure tracking system, higher or lower speed C, ~nt6 may be used, as desired, while still enjoying the benefits of the present invention.
The MICR decoder 104 is preferably of a type that is commonly available in the banking industry for decoding MICR
code and electronically conveying inf~r~tinn representative of the MICR code to an associated computer or other peripheral device. Although shown here separately for illustrative purposes, the MICR decoder 104 more preferably comprises a magnetic reading head or module that i5 incorporated into a single integral structure with the image scanner 106.
!; 2 ~ ~ 5 ~ 5 4 ~ WO96103719 ~ r~l,u~
Preferably this comprises an NCR 7780 High-Speed Power Encoder fitted with a MICR Reader Module, available from NCR
The central processor 108 preferably comprises a high-speed computer having at least a 66 MHz 486 microprocessor, 16 MB of working RAM, 2 CB of fixed disk or magnetic tape storage and an image capable high-resolution, high-refresh monochrome monitor. Alternatively, the central processor 108 may comprise any - ItPr imaging system or other computer image processor capable of receiving and processing pixel images and other information at high rates of speed. It will be further appreciated that such image pro~P~s;ng may either be done on-line or off-line, ~Pp~n~;ng upon the relative speed of the central processor 108 compared to the speed of the MICR
decoder 104 and scanner 106.
In operation, the MICR decoder 104 reads the magnetic encoded numbers on the bottom of each check 8 and transmits this information to the central processor 108. The scanner 106 then scans the front and, preferably, the back of each check 8 in subst~n~;~lly rapid succession and transmits a pixel image thereof to the central processor 108. A pixel image having ~ n~ 825 pixels high by 1800 pixels wide, corr~spon~;ng to a 300 dpi scan, provides a convenient size for purposes of expenditure tracking using printed bank checks having graphic icons in accuLdance wit the present invention.
Alternatively, other scan resolutions or pixel image sizes may be used, as desired, while still enjoying the benefits of the present invention. It is important, however, that the scan resolution and pixel image size be at least m;nir-lly sufficient to allow recognition of a mark made on the check by a writing instrument such as a ball-point pen.
The pixel image of each check 8 is then analyzed in the central processor 108 to determine which, if any, of a plurality of graphic icons have been marked. It will be understood that these pixel images need not be actually displayed, but may be stored in working memory and manipulated in accordance with well known pixel imaging techniques. Once WO 961U3719 ' ~ 9 5 9 5 4 PCI'IU~595~10386 selected expenditure categories have been determined, thiq information is then ~ ~ nP~ with other transaction information, such as the dollar amount of the check, check transaction number, bank account number, bank routing number, and payee name, in order to generate an expenditure stet ! ~
112 which may be provided to the bank customer, as desired.
Alternatively, this information may be electronically downloaded, as desired, via modem or other means to a home or business computer 114, as shown.
FIGURE 7 is a front view of one possible ~mho~ of an expenditure 6tat- ~t 112 in accordance with the present invention. The statement 112 contains customary information such as the account number and bank customer name at the top, as shown. Expenditures are then broken down by category, such as auto P~p~n~c, groceries, etc., as shown. Within each category are listed corresponding check transaction numbers 113, obtained, for instance, from the MICR code. Next to each check transaction number 113 is provided a printed image of the payee name 114, obtained from the check image, and the amount of the check 11~, as determined from the ~ICR code.
Optionally, thic check amount may be verified against the amount written in the check amount box using a modified OCR
technique described in more detail later.
Ad~antageously, image capturing and reproducing of the payee box 16 provides a convenient way of reporting each check transaction to a bank customer without having to return or provide copies af individual checks. ~urthermore, it provides additional security by affording the bank customer an u~ Lu~lity to identify and verify the payee name and thereby determine if the check had been fraudulently written or obtained. Alternatively, one or more optical character recog-nition ("OCR") techni~ues may be used to convert a hand-written or typed payee name in the payee box 16 into ASCII
equivalent characters that can be similarly reproduced in an expenditure statement or other accounting statement provided to the bank customer. Image capturing and reproducing of the text image within the payee box 16 is preferred, however, due i.
~ WO96/037l9 ~ , 2 ~ ~ 5 9 5 4 PCT~S95/10386 to the current difficulties of primary recognition of hand-writing using presently available OCR techniques and the aforementioned benefits of reproducing the actual payee box 16 on the expenditure statement 112.
The above described expenditure statement is convenient for monitoring monthly expenditures in each of a plurality of expenditure categories. Alternatively, a wide variety of different types of expenditure statements may be generated, as desired, such as a year-to-date statement or an assets-and-income statement, etc. Expenditure information may also be organized into a pie chart or other similar graphic form in order to visually illustrate a particular breakdown of expenditures, as desired. Alternatively, it will be readily apparent to those skilled in the art that various graphs, tables and statement forms may be provided to convey expenditure tracking information to a customer in a convenient and useful way.
In a particularly preferred~ - , such expenditure tracking information is incorporated into a conventional bank statement to provide a more detailed and useful analysis of account deposits and withdrawals. Most preferably, such a statement would be an all-~n~ -csing stiqt - L of expenditures, deposits, account balance, interest earned, ATM, POS, and EFT withdrawals and transactions, etc. This format is particularly desirable for banks that wish to offer such premium services as part of a preferred customer program or other incentive program intended to attract and keep bank customers. Alternatively, it is envisioned that such statements may become standard in the banking industry as customers continue to demand more detailed and useful account information from their banking institutions.
EI~URE 8 is a more detailed schematic block diagram of an expenditure tracking system having features of the present invention. In operation, bank checks 8 are sent through the MICR decoder lo~ and the scanner 106. The order in which the check 8 enters the decoder 104 and the image scanner 106 i8 relatively unimportant; however, for convenience it i8 ~ ' 959~4 W096/037lg ~ r~
preferred that the MICR decoder 104 reads the check first 80 that the ~ICR code may be used thereaiter as a reference number for subsequent processing ~teps. The MICR decoder 104 transmits to the central pLucessul 108 an electronic signal which corresponds to the MICR code recorded on the bottom of the check 8. The scanner 106 is adapted to scan the check 8 at high speeds and produce an image thereof 8' which is also provided to the central processor 108. The scanner 106 i8 preferably adapted to produce a 16 level grey-scale pixel image of each check. Alternatively, the scanner 106 may be adapted to provide a bi-level image of each check, as desired.
The central processor 108 receives a series of binary data from the scanner 106 representative of a pixel image 8' of each check. This is preferably in the form of a TIFF file or other standard pixel image format, such as an ASCII file with commas delimited zones. A computer subroutine 117 processes this image by applying threshold imaging, aligning the image and correcting for minor distortions. Another subroutine 118 u~L~lea the pixel image of the amount box 18'.
Subroutine 120 verifies that the amount written in the amount box 18' cu~Le~yulids to the amount read from the MICR code by the decoder 104. This may be done using a sec~n~ry OCR
recognition technique, which wlll be described in more detail later. A second image capture subroutine 122 captures a pixel image of the payee box 16', as shown. This i8 recorded in pixel form in the transaction record by the tran~action update subroutine 121. A third image capturê subroutine 124 captures the icon array 28', as shown, as well as any optional icon boxes (not shown~. A novel mark detection subroutine 126 then determines which icons (if any) have been marked and provides this information to the transaction update subroutine lZ1.
The transaction record is thereby updated accordingly, with the check amount~ payee, and expenditure category as described herein.
Periodically, the central processor 108 may be prompted to provide a cumulative download of certain transactions recorded in the transaction record. This may be provided, for "~ t,;
WO96~037l9 ~ J~4 rCT~S9Sil0386 instance, to a printer 110 in order to generate a periodic expenditure statement 112, as desired. Alternatively, this information may be downloaded directly to a bank customer' 8 home or business computer 114, as shown.
FIGURE 9 is a more detailed flow chart of the image processing subroutine 117 shown in FIGURE 8. This is preferably in the form of a computer software subroutine or other electronic circuitry that may be called on demand to perform the steps described. The subroutine 117 begins at step 150 with the routine initialization of variables, defining common variables, allocation of working memory space, etc. Step 151 inputs the pixel check image 8' from the scanner 106 (shown in FIGURE 8) into working memory.
Preferably, the check image 8' is stored in a commonly accessible memory location such that the image may be accessed by any subroutine or software called to operate or perform functions on the image. This may be, for instance, a specifically allocated portion of R~M memory associated with the central processor 108, itself, or in an external storage device, such as a hard disk or CD-ROM disk, as desired. The image 8~ is stored in binary or h~Y~cir-l form in a TIFF
file or other pixel image format wherein each binary digit represents a particular pixel location of the image. Each image will occupy approximately 192 K of working memory.
The storage and accessing of pixel image information in working memory is well known to those skilled in the art. For instance, the pixel image may be stored in memory row-by-row, column-by-column, or any other convenient means for storing pixel images. Preferably it is stored row-by-row, starting with the pixel in the upper left most corner of the check image and proceeding to the right until the last pixel in each row is reached. An end-of-row code such as a ~00~ or nFF" may be inserted into the series of binary data representative of the check image 8' tG indicate the end of each pixel row. The data then c~nt;nn~c with the left most pixel of the next row.
The beginning and end of each pixel image stored in memory may be further defined by recording the first and last memory WO96/03719 ~ 5 9 5 4 PCT~595~10~6 location occupied by the data representative of the image.
Alternatively, consecutive images may be astackedU separated by an appropriat:e hP~ code, as desired, indicating the beginning and end of each pixel image. In thi~ manner, it S will be appreciated that any number of pixel images may be stored as linear arrays of binary or h~ prir~l data which can be stored and ~cess~d serially in working memory or other storage media, as desired.
If the check image 8' is a grey-scale image then threshold imaging is applied at step 152 to convert the image to black and white. Threshold imaging may be done, for instance, by defining a de6ired threshold black~white level and then comparing each grey-scale pixel to this threshold level to determine whether it falls above or below the threshold level. ~his will likely be a trial and error process for each particular check design. In selecting an d~ L iate threshold level, it is desirable to ensure that the light inner portion of each icon consistently drops out of the scanned image. On the other hand, the threshold should not be set so high that marks made upon the bank check by a bank customer will tend to fall below the threshold and drop out. Preferably, the threshold level is set just above the level that will cause the light inner portio~ of each icon to consistently drop out. This provides optimal dynamic range of mark detection.
If checks are scanned using a 16 level grey-scale scanner, for instance, where 0 = lightest and 15 = darkest, a threshold level of between about 7 and 10 and, more prefer-ably, about 9 provides a convenient threshold level for most scanning purposes. Pixels falling above this threshold level Icorresponding to high absorptivity) are then designated as black pixels, or R1"8. Pixels falling below this threshold level are designated as white pixels, or "0"s. The resulting bi-level pixel image is stored in working memory or other convenient memory location, as desired, for further processing.
Once the check image 8~ has been inputted into memory as . : ' 2 ' 959 ~ WO96/Q3719 ~ ~~- PCT~S95/10386 a bi-level pixel image, it is compared at step 153 to a reference or sample check image that has also been stored in an accessible location in working memory. The images are first ~ ~ad for size in step 154 using a combination of an edge detection and pixel counting techniques. The check image is initially processed by filtering out all areas but those ~ showing the highest contrast. This will occur wherever a white pixel is next to a black pixel and indicate~ the presence of an "edge". Preferably, the check 8 in FIGURE 8 has been scanned against a dark or black bauhy~uu..d by the image scanner 106, such that the edge of the check image 8' will show high contrast with the black ba~hyLuulld~
Once the outline of the check image 8~ has been established, the approximate size of the check image is then determined by counting or estimating the number of pixels within the check outline. If this image is significantly larger or smaller than the corr~qp~n~; ng sample check image then the check is either aborted or, optionally, the check image 8' may be scaled at step 156 using any one of a number of well known pixel image scaling techniques, such as those c~nt~;n~d in Visionshape's AutoClass~ software library, available from Visionshape of Orange, Q. If size correction is attempted, then the scaled image is again compared at step 153 to the sample check image. If the size of the image is now within predetermined tolerances, such as plu8 or minus 10~, then the subroutine 117 proceeds to the next step 156.
Step 156 determines whether the image is distorted either vertically or horizont~lly Vertical distortion refers to a scaled check image that is either taller or shorter than the sample check image. Horizontal distortion refers to a scaled check image that is longer or shorter horizontally than the stored check image. Either one of these types of distortions may occur in a high speed scanner using raster or linear array scan input. Distortion may be caused, for instance, by variations in the speed of the check going past a linear CCD
scanner, causing the image to either be stretched or compacted. If the checks are fed horizontally, then hori-q 59 ~4 WO ~/03719 L ~ ~ J PCT~59~1~3~ ~
zontal distortion is more likely. If the checks are fedvertically, then vertical distortion is more likely. It i5 desirable to keep such speed fluctuations and distortions to a minimum. Alternatively, a photographic-type image-capturing device may be used, as desired, to take a substantially inst~nt~n~-1c nsnap shot" of the entire check image. In that case, it will be appreciated that the likelihood of image distortion is subst~n~;~lly reduced. Either type of scanner may be used flPr~nAing upon cost and av~ ility.
If significant image distortion is detected, then the check is aborted. Optionally, step 158 may be provided in order to attempt to correct this distortion by either stretch-ing or shrinking the check image 8~ either vertically or horizontally, as the case may be. This may be done using any 1~ one of several well known pixel image scalins techniques, such as c~n~;n~d in the afJ~ n~ Visionshape AutoClass~
software library. If distortion correction is attempted, then the check image 8~ is again compared to the sample image in step 152 and readjusted, as desired, until it is within predetermined tolerances, auch as plus or minus l0~.
Once the size and distortion variations have been checked, the next step 160 is to check for image skew. This may occur, for instance~ if a check is not lying flat on one edge as it i8 drawn past the image scanner lQ6 shown in FIGURE
8. This may cause the resulting check image 8' to ke angled or rotated from its normal horizontal position. Image skew is detected using a line detection technique, such as available from Visionshape's ~1~torl~s Library, whereby known vertical and horizontal lines on the check image 8~ are detected and then analyzed to det~r~;n~ if they are ~kewed. Degree of skew is preferably determined according to the average of all detected lines.
If significant image skew is detected, the check may either be aborted or, preferably, step 162 attempts to remedy this skew by rotating the image 8'. This may be done using any one of several well known pixel image rotation algorithms, such as is cont~;n~d in the aforementioned ~isionshape 2 ~ q 5 9 5 4 ~ W096/03719 ~ ~ ' PCT/US95/10386 AutoClass~ software library. Preferably, image rotation i9 in~L -P~ in accordance with the direction and angular degree of skew detected. Several rotations may be necessary before the image is within acceptable skew tolerances, such as, for instance, plus or minus 3 degrees rotation.
Step 164 verifies that the correct side of the bank check has been scanned or, in other words, that the check 8 has not been flipped front-to-back in the image scanner 106. This is preferably acc l;chP~ using a pixel image overlay techn;quP
whereby a sample cheok image is c_ ;ned or merged with the check image 8' using an appropriate Boolean operator, such as AND, NAND or XOR ~exclusive OR), operating upon corresponding pixels. The resulting image roughly reflects the percentage overlap of individual pixels between the sample image and the check image 8'. A high percentage of pixel overlap would indicate a relatively high probability that the check images correspond such that the front of the check has probably been scanned. A low percentage of pixel overlap would indicate that the front of the check has probably not been ade~uately scanned or is otherwise non-recognizable. Of course, it is possible that heavily canceled or marked-up checks may result in poor correspnn~nr~ even though the check has been properly scanned. These types of image defects will result in the check being aborted at steps 168 and 170, as indicated.
Alternatively, a flipped check image may be detected using any one of several pixel image recognition or verification algorithms such as is ~nt~;nPd in the afoL~ n~d Visionshape AutoClass~ software library.
If a flipped image is detected the next step 166 attempts to correct this by switching or flipping the image from back to front. If both sides of the check have been simul~nPoucly scanned by the scanner 106, then the images are swapped electronically. If not, then mechanical means are provided for routing the check back through the image scanner so that the other side is presented for scanning.
Preferably, each of the image correcting loops 153-166 has an abort feature whereby the check is automatically w0~6~37l9 ~ ~ 5 ~ 5 ~ Pc~ru~g5/l0~6 aborted or the correction procedure iB automatically termi-nated after a certain predetermined number of correction attempts have been made. The threshold for aborting may vary from one correction step to the next. For instance, for the scaling of the image 154 it may be convenient to set an abort threshold of say 8-10 tries, whereas the flipped image 166 may have an abort tEreshold of only two tries since if neither side of the check produces coLL~L~ n~e with the sample check image then it is probably not possible to process it in the automated check expenditure system of the present invention.
In the event that a check i9 aborted, it is preferably forwarded to a manual inspection station or other auxiliary service station so that the system can proceed with other checks, the bulk of which will be able to be deciphered and processed automatically by the expenditure tracking system.
If it is determined that a successfal image scan has been obtained, then the corrected check image 8" is stored in memory as discussed above in connection with the step 151.
This may be at the same memory location or a different memory location as the original check image 8~, as desired, although preferably it is overwritten in the same memory location so as to conserve use of memory space. After the corrected check image 8~ is ~tored in working memory, the subroutine 117 terminates at step 174 and command control is passed back to the central processor 1~8 for performing further processing upon the corrected check image 8H, as will be described below.
FIGURE 10 shows a more detailed flowchart diagram of the image capture subroutine 118 shown in FIGURE 8. The subroutine is initialized at step 180. The corrected check image 8" iB inputted from the preceding image processing step 117 shown in FIGURF 8. Again, this inputting step i3 preferably accomplished by enabling access to a commonly accessible memory location where the corrected check image 8"
is preferably stored. Once the corrected check image 8" has been inputted or access provided, step 184 locates the amount box 18' on the check image. This is preferably ~c~ lic ~ WO96/03719 ~ ' PCTI~S95ll03X6 using a combination of edge detection and zone locating tech-niques. In this technique a zone is defined on the check image relative to known marks or lines on the check, itself.
This corresponds to a defined area on the check within which the amount box 18' is expected to be found. The size of this zone is preferably at least slightly larger than the amount box 18' in order to accommodate for slight variations in the size and location of the amount box 18 occurring during previous scanning and image processing steps. A convenient zone size for the amount box is apprn~;m-t~ly 75 pixels vertically by appro~ir-t~ly 330 pixels horizontally and corresponds roughly to the proportions of the amount box 18 shown in EIGURE 1. Alternatively, larger or smaller zones may be used, as desired, depending upon the observed accuracy of the system in locating the amount box 18' for each particular check design.
The pixels in the locating zone are then ~Ami n~d using an edge detection technique in order to detect the outer borders of the amount box 18'. The amount box should be properly oriented at this point. Optionally, a further orientation or rotation step may be provided in order to prevent skew of the amount box 18'. Once edge detection has successfully located the amount box 18' within the locating zone, step 186 isolates the amount box image 18'. This will result in a somewhat smaller pixel image measuring approx-imately 75 pixels vertically by 300 pixels hor;7ontAlly.
Once the pixel image 18' has been isolated, it is then filtered at step 188 using any one of several conventional pixel image filtering techniques, such as speckle removal, available from V;cinn~hApe's AutoClass~ software library. In this technique, any individual pixels or small groups of pixels having no contiguous neighbors are reversed so that they will become contiguous with their neighbors. Thus, for instance, a small black spot appearing in an otherwise white zone would be replaced with a white spot so that a contiguous white image is presented. The same is true of white spots found in a black contiguous area. The number of pixels WO96/03719 ~ ' 2 1~ 9 5 ~ 5 ~ pCT~S~11038 comprising an individual speckle may be varied as desired to provlde a convenient level of filtering. If the speckle size is set to low, then not all the speckles in the image may be removed. On the other hand, if the speckle ~ize i5 set to high, then potentially critical portions of the check image may be removed.~Preferably, the speckle 8ize for filtering is selected to co-l~s~.,d to at least a size smaller than a normal decimal point made by a ballpoint pen. The filtered image of the amount box 18' is outputted for further use ~y the central processor 108, as will be described below. The subroutine terminates at step 190 and command control is passed back to the central processor 108.
~IGURE 11 is a further detailed flowchart diagram of the subroutine 120 shown in FIGUR~ ,3. This subroutine verifies that the amount indicated in the amount box 18 corresponds to the amount entered on the check in MICR code. The subroutine is initialized at step 156, as shown. The MICR code is inputted at step 198 and stored t~ , aLily in ~orking memory.
Step 200 extracts from this MICR code the dollar amount of the check L~esellted by the right most eight MICR digits on most checks. In this case, the ~ICR coae indicates that the check is for $126.69. This dollar amount is stored in working memory at step 202, as shown.
Step 204 inputs the pixel image of the amount box 18' obtained from the 8ubroutine 118, a6 previously described.
Agai~, this is preferably inputted by enabling access to a common memory area cont~ining binary data repr~s~nt~t;ve of the pixel image 18'. Beginning on one side of the image 18' step 206 icol~tps each dlgit in the pixel image 18' proce~ing from right to left, in this case, beginning with the numeral "9". Alternatively, verification may proceed from left to right, as desired.
Digit isolation is accomplished using con~entional image processing tech~iques such as have been described previously.
Preferably, the image is divided into segments separated ~if possible) by at least one vertical column of substantially contiguous white pixels. These white pixels represent a space ~ W046/037~9 ~ 2 ~ 9 5 9 5 ~ r~
between individual digits. The numeral ~9~, for instance, may be separated from the rest of the image by locating a vertical column of substantially contiguous pixels between the six and the nine so that the character nine can then be isolated and PY~m;n~d in more detail.
~ach isolated digit is then verified using a conventional OCR software routine, such as is available from Visionshape's AutoClass~ 30ftware library. OCR recognition is preferably secondary, however, in that the software is instructed to begin with the particular expected character, in this case the numeral "9". The OCR software then looks for and confirms the existence of several characteristic features of the particular isolated digit and generates a match percentage output representative of the percentage likelihood that the isolated digit is the expected digit. For example, for the numeral "9"
the OCR software may look for a substantially vertical line or slightly curved line rnnn~cted to a contiguous top portion which formes a closed loop.
The OCR software is instructed to stop after the first attempt at recognition is made. If the match percentage output is greater than a predetermined threshold percentage, then a "match" is assumed and the subroutine proceeds to the next step. If the match percentage output is less than the predetermined threshold, then the check is aborted at step 212 and either r~r~nn~ to obtain a better image or manually inspected, as desired. The confidence level of the verification subroutine 120 can be adjusted, as desired, by increasing or decreasing the threshold match percentage required to assume a match has been made. A threshold match percentage of between about 75~ and 100~ and, more preferably, about 90~ provides a convenient confidence level for most expenditure tracking purposes.
It will be appreciated that by using secondary OCR
recognition the amount written in the amount box 18 can be quickly and accurately verified against the MICR code dollar amount with recognition rates exceeding roughly go~. This is a significant ; lVV~ - t over most primary OCR techniques, 71 o~n~ ~1 WO96103719 ~ L ~ ~ J 7~ PCT~395/l0386 which currently achieve only about a 66~ recognition rate for hand-written numerical characters. Alternatively, as OCR
technology develops and improves it is further envisioned that OCR may be used directly to read and verify thc written check amount against the MICR code.
The next step 214 asks whether there are more diyits to be compared. This ~tep b~tc~lly uses the OCR software to verify whether the isolated digit corresponds to a printed dollar siyn, which i8 also preferably captured in the amount box 18'. When the software recogn; 70~ the printed dollar sign, lt assumes that it has reached the end of the left most field of the amount image 18'. Because this dollar sign is printed uniformly on each check, it i5 easily re~o~n;7~hle using the OCR software described above. Alternatively, a 1~ simple pixel image overlay technique may be used, as desired.
If step 214 determines that there are more digits to be compared, then step 216 in~, ts the digit counter N and returns the subroutine to the step 206 for isolating the next digit. The subroutine 120 continues to operate as described above until all digits have either been verified or the check has been aborted. Once all the digits have been verified, then step 216 outputs the verified MICR dollar amount for use in subsequent processing steps. The subroutine 120 terminates at step 218 and command control is passed back to the central 2~ proce880r 108.
EIGURE 12 is a more detailed flowchart diayram of the subroutine 122 shown in ~IGURE 8. This capture subroutine 122 is similar to the capture subroutine 118 de8cribed previously with a few exceptions that will be described. The subroutine is initialized at step 230. Step 232 inputs the corrected check image 8" into working memory. Again, this is preferably done by enabling access to a commonly accessible memory area, as described previously. Step 234 locates the payee box 16 using the edge detection technique described previously in connection with FIGURE 10. A zone is defined corr~pnr~1ng to the expected location of the payee box 16 and an isolated pixel image is obtained thereof in step 236. This image is 2 ~ ~ 5954 96/03719 ~ PCT~S95/l0386 then cropped and rotated as desired so that it will present neatly in an expenditure st~t , as shown previously in FIGURE 7. This image is then filtered at step 238, if desired, using the afuI, ~;oned speckle removal filtering technique. The filtered image of the payee box 16' is then outputted, as shown, for further uae by the central processor 108. The subroutine 122 terminates at step 240 and command control is passed back to the central processor 108.
FIGURE 13 is a more detailed flowchart diagram of the subroutine 124 shown in FIGURE 8. This subroutine captures an image of the icon array 28' including any supplemental or auxiliary icon boxes (not shown). The subroutine is initialized at step 250. The corrected check image 8" is inputted at step 252, preferably by enabling access to a commonly accessible memory area r~t~ining binary data representative of the check image 8". Step 254 locates the icon array 28'. This may be done using any one of a variety of pixel image detection techniques, as previously described.
Preferably, a combination of zone locating and edge detection techniques are used to locate the icon array 28'. A
suitable zone is defined such that it covers substantially the entire area within which the icon array 28~ is expected to be found. A zone measuring appr~;r-tPly 660 pixels vertically by approximately 330 pixels horizontally provides a convenient zone size for capturing the icon array 28~. Within the zone, edge detection is used to locate the edge of white pixels just outside of the outer frame of individual icons in order to register the image for subsequent processing. Optionally, the image 28~ may be filtered in step 258 using a speckle filtering technique, as described previously. The filtered image 28~ is then outputted for further processing by the central processor 108. The subroutine terminates at step 260 and command control is passed back to the central processor 108.
FIGURE 14 is a more detailed flowchart diagram of the - subroutine 126 shown in FIGURE 8. This subroutine determines which, if any, icons have been marked by a bank customer. The W096/O~Is ~ 9 5 ~ 5 4 pCT~S95110~6 subroutine 126 i8 initialized at step 270. The filtered image of the icon array 28~ is inputted at step 272, preferably by ~nAhl; ng access to a commonly accrF9; hle memory area ct~nt~;ning binary data in the form of a TIFF file represen-S tative of the image 28~. Step 274 locates each individualicon "N" by zone location using the white edge just outside of the black outer frame of individual icons as reference lines.
Step 276 isolates each icon "N~ by first copying the pixel image within the corrt~Rrr~ntling zone into a separate TIFF file stored in working memory and then applying edge detection to locate the white edges just inside the black outer frame of the copied icon image. Optionally, step 278 further filters each individual icon image to remove any Le in;nr~ spurious noise or other image defects present in the icon image.
Individual icons are then masked in order to remove known dark portions of the icon image, as described previously in connection with FIGURE 5C. A suitable mask such as mask 86 shown in FIGURE 5C, is preferably created for each particular icon and is stored in working memory in the form of a bi-level pixel image or TIFF file that can be accessed and ~-nipl-lated similar to the pixel icon images described above.
Alternatively, the mask may reside in working memory in the form of a predetermined algorithm for removing or transforming known dark portions of each corr~srrntl;ng icon.
In order ta apply the mask accurately, several steps are first performed to adjust the icon image and~or mask to provide a desired corr~spon~lrnre therebetween. It is particularly important to ensure that the icon and mask images are properly aligned so that known dark areas of the icon image will not protrude through open or white areas of the cu~ n~;ng mask. To ensure consistent and adet~uate mask coverage, the open or white area of the mask 86 (corrt~Ppon~ling to the area inside the dashed lines in FIGUR~ 5C~ is preferably somewhat smaller than the intended marking area 77, as indicated, in order to provide a degree of tolerance for slight misalignments. It will be further understood that the mask area outside of the dashed lines shown in FIG~RF 5C is ~ I
2' 95~4 ~ . ,. .... ~. I , ~ WO96/03719 preferably all black. Alternatively, a uniform mask may be applied over icons such as shown in Figure 22 in order to eliminate any pixels attributable to the frame 479 and to detect the occurrence of supra-threshold pixels in the intended marking area within the frame 479.
Referring again to FIGURE 14, step 282 determines whether the icon image is larger or smaller than the corr~spnn~lng mask. This is preferably determined by edge detection and then cnnntins the number of pixels within the detected outer edge of the icon. If the icon area is smaller than the corr~spn~;ns mask, then the icon is scaled accordingly in step 284, using known pixel image scaling techniques such as ~nn~;n~ in Visionshape's AutoClassl software library.
Step 286 checks to see whether the icon is distorted in any way. This is determined using edge detection and then counting the pixels along each edge of the icon to determine whether it is longer or shorter than expected. If distortion is detected, then step 288 stretches or shrinks the icon image, as needed, to provide a suitable correspondence with the mask. A variety of pixel image stretching or shrinking techniques may be used, as desired, to scale the image. A
convenient technique, however, is to provide for pixel expansion or contraction from a center line dividing the icon hor;~nnt~lly or vertically, as needed. The two halves of the icon are then either separated or pushed together while columns or rows of icons are replicated or removed at the centerline in order to provide a contiguous pixel image. It will be appreciated that while the above described technique will not produce exactly scaled icons, it is fast and convenient where only small degrees of shrinkage or stretching are required and sufficient tolerance is otherwise provided in the mask to acc '-te slight icon variations.
The next step 290 checks for possible skew of the icon image. If skew is detected, step 292 rotates the mask image accordingly in predetermined in~L, ~ s until the skew is corrected to within predetermined tolerances. Again, this may be done using any variety of well known image pixel rotation :
q ~ ~ 3r 4 W096/03719 PCT~595/10386 techni~ues such as contained in Visionshape's AutoClass~
software library. Alternatively, the pixel icon i~age may be rotated1 if desired, to correct for skew.
Once the pixel image of the icon and mask have been adjusted to correspond, then the mask is registered with the icon and applied at step 294. This is done by combining or merging the registered mask image with the icon image uslng an appropriate combination of Boolean operators, such as AND, NAND or XOR. A NAND operator is particularly preferred for achieving the desired masking result, as illustrated in TA3~E 4 below.
IMAGE (i) B B - W N
MASK ~m) B W B W
RESULT ( r) W B W W
It will be understood by those skilled in the art that a logical NAND operator, i.e., (i NAND m1, takes the value FP~SE
or "0" if both i and m are "l" (corresponding to both black pixels), or TRUE or "l" if either i and m are "0"
~corresponding to both white pixels, or mixed white and black pixels). If (i NAND m) is FALSE, then the corr~p~n~ing RESULT pixel, r, is set equal to NOT(i) or ~ as indicated above in TA;3~E 4. I~ (i NAND m) is TRUE, then the corres-ponding RESULT pixel, r, is set equal to i. The resultingpixel image should be c~ ssed of subst~nt;~71y all white pixels except for any marks placed on the icon by a bank customer.
Step 296 caunts the number of l-f i n; ng contiguous black pixels (#CP) present in the resulting icon image. Step 298 compares this number (#CP) to a threshold number of pixels (T) re~uired to assume that a mark has been detected. If the number of ~e ining contiguous black pixels (#CP) is greater than this threshold number (T), then a mark is assumed to be detected. Step 300 outputs the icon number (N) corresponding 5 ~ 5 4 ~ WO9Cl037l9 .~ PCT~S95/10386 to the selected expenditure category, in this case groceries, and the subroutine 126 continues on to the next step. On the other hand, if the number of contiguous black pixels (#CP) is less than the threshold number ~T), then step 302 acknowledges that no mark has been detected for that particular icon (N).
A threshold ~T) of about two-hundred pixels provides a convenient reference number for assuming the existence of a mark. Alternatively, smaller or larger threshold numbers ~T) may be used, as desired, while still enjoying the benefits of the present invention.
Step 304 determines whether there are more icons to be examined. If so, step 306 increments the icon counter ~N) and the subroutine returns to step 274 in order to examine the next icon (N). If no more icons are left to be PY~;nP~, then the subroutine terminates at step 308 and returns command control to the central procesaor 108. Note, that the subroutine 126 may output more than one expenditure category if, for instance, the bank customer has marked more than one icon, indicating that the check transaction is to be split evenly between the marked categories.
FIGURE 24 shows an alternative subroutine 126' for detecting which of a plurality of icons in an array of icons has been marked. Preferably, the subroutine 126' may be used with checks having an array of drop-out icons printed in accordance with the preferred .: ' 'i t shown and described in connection with FIGURE 23. It will be recalled that in this particular. '-'; t, the entire icon 464~ is printed or screened using a drop-out ink so that the entire icon will be invisible to a scanner, as shown in FIGURE 23B. Any marks made on the icon will appear as dark pixels in an otherwise white image. The subroutine 126' locates these pixels on an x-y grid relative to one or more predetermined reference lines and icon positions to determine whether a corresponding icon has been marked.
The subroutine 126' begins at step 501 with the routine initialization of variables, defining common variables, allocation of working memory, etc. At step 503 the subroutine wo ~l03719 ~ 2 t 9 ~ ~ 5 4 pCT~l~9~l0386 locates a predetermined vertical reference line corr~Rp~n~;n~
to the line x=0 on an x-y grid. This may be accomplished using any one of a number of line or edge detection te~hn;~lPR
well known in the art. Next, at step 505 the subroutine locates a predetermined horizontal reference line corresponding to the line y=0 on the x-y grid. Again, this may be accomplished using a line or edge detection technique.
The reference lines are preferably black horizontal and vertical lines ~i~po~eA on the check in or near the icon array 28. These lines are preferably printed in a non-drop-out color such as black so that they may be detected by a scanner.
If desired, the payee box, amount box, memo line, or signature line of a check may be used as convenient reference lines for locating the icon array on an x-y grid. In a particularly preferred r-~o~ t shown in FIGURES 20 and 21, the memo line 324 includes a short vertical reference line 325 originating at the far left side of the memo line and P~t~n~;ng approximately 6.3 mm upward. The combination of the horizontal memo line 324 and the vertical reference line 325 provide a convenient reference for locating the icon array 28 with respect to the x-y grid shown.
Preferably, the reference lines are at least 0.7 points (0.25 mm)thick and are printed using a non-drop-out ink, as indicated above. Any color having a minimum PCS of about 0.4 would be acceptable a~ a non-drop-out color. This would include black, dark blue, dark forest green, etc. ~lack i8 the most preferred color because it i8 the darkest and is standard within the check printing industry.
Referring again to FIGURE 24, once the subroutine 126' identifies and locates the reference lines in steps 503, 505, the relative x-y position of the icon array and corresponding icon positions can be calculated in accordance with predetermined preferred dimensions. The subroutine 126' then inputs the portion of the check image corr~Rp~n~;ng to the icon array 28' at step 507 and stores this in working memory.
At step 509 the subroutine counts the number of contiguous supra-threshold~ ("black") pixels (#CPn~ present in the t 95~4 ~ WO96/03719 i~ PCT~S95/l03~6 resulting pixel image in a location cuLL~D~ ding to a particular icon position "n". If the number of contiguous black pixels (#CPn) i8 less than a predetermined threshold number ~T), then the subroutine assumes that no mark is present in that particular icon area, as indicated at step 513. A threshold (T~ of about two hundred contiguous pixels provides a convenient reference number for determining the existence of a mark. If no mark is detected, then the fiubroutine in~L~ c the icon position counter '~n'~ at step 515 and the subroutine returns to step 509.
On the other hand, if the number of contiguous black pixels (#CPn) in a particular icon position "n'~ is greater than the threshold number (T) then the subroutine 126' assumes that a mark is present, as indicated by step 517. The subroutine then outputs the corresponding selected expenditure category at step 519, in this case groceries, and the subroutine continues on to the next step. This process continues until all icon positions "n" have been checked as indicated at step 514. Once all icon positions "n" have been checked for marks, the subroutine 126' terminates at step 515 and returns command control to the central processor 108.
FIGURE 15 is a more detailed flowchart diagram of the subroutine 121 shown in FIGURE 8. This subroutine updates a stored transaction record according to information received from other subroutines described above. The subroutine is initialized at step 330, as indicated. Step 332 inputs the MICR code obtained from the MICR decoder 104 shown in FIGURE
8. Step 334 inputs the verified amount of the check which is the output of the subroutine 120 indicated in FIGURE 8 and described in more detail in EIGURE 11. In this case, the indicated amount is $126.69. Step 336 inputs the pixel image of the payee box 16' previously outputted by the subroutine 122 shown in FIGURE 8 and described in more detail in FIGURE
12. Step 338 inputs the icon number (or numbers) for which marks have been detected by the mark detection subroutine 126 shown in FIGURE B and described in more detail in EIGURE 14.
optionally, step 344 inputs deposit, ATM, POS and other EFT
Wog~037l9 2~ 95~54 rc~vv .
transaction information from a bank 346 or EFT network. This latter information ~ay be internal to the bank or, alternatively, i;t may be do~nloaded via modem to a separate processing center, as desired.
Step 34~ records inputted infor~ation in a cumulative transaction record according to account number, check transaction number, expenditure category, dollar amount and payee. Preferably this transaction record iB stored in a computer data base or other storage media, as desired, such that it may be periodically accessed, further processed and incorporated into an expenditure 3t~t t 348, as shown. For maximum convenience, this statement 348 is preferably in the form of a more detailed bank account statement showing expenditures, deposits, balance, interest earned, ATM, POS and EFT transactions, etc. Alternatively, other types of reports or s~ may be produced, as desired, to provide transaction information to a bank customer in a convenient form. After each transaction is recorded, the subroutine 121 terminates and passes command control back ~o the central processor 10~.
In a particularly preferred e '-~; t, an expenditure tracking system and method in accordance with the present invention i9 further adapted to automatically track electro~ic tran6actions such as may occur through the use of an ~TM or POS terminal. Prefera~ly, bank cu9tomers are provided with an ATM card, cred~t card, or other wallet-sized card that i~
printed with a plurality of graphic icons ~ ;ng to predetermined expenditure categories, substantially as described above. Superimposed over each icon is a Transaction Icon Number ~TIN~ which identifies each poasible icon choice.
At an ATM or PO~ terminal, the customer enters the usual Personal Identification Number (PIN) to obtain access to his funds electronically. The customer then further enters a TIN
number coL~ ding to the particular ATM or POS transaction expenditure category applicable. This information may either be prompted for by the ATM or POS t~rm;n~l or, alternati~ely, the TIN may simply be entered immediately following the ;; 21 ~5~54 ~ WO96103719 --- ,~, /L~,~I/ ,r
6 1 initial PIN access code separated, for instance, by either the ~*~ or "#" key. Alternatively, icons may be displayed directly on an ATM or POS screen and may be selected by a bank customer by ton~h;ng the screen or by depressing a corresponding button provided on the ATM or POS keypad, as desired.
Optionally, it is further envisioned that a "smart-card"
type credit or ATM card may also be provided such as, for instance, a Schlumberger-type IC card. Such a card could comprise, for instance, a simple microprocessor, IC terminals, and magnetic strip and/or internal storage capabilities, as desired. A plurality of printed icons may be provided on the card, itself, disposed on a corresponding grid of pressure sensitive buttons. Icons may then be selected by depressing the pressure sensitive button corrPsr~nA;ng to each icon.
Prior to inserting the smart-card, for instance, the card user presses the icon which best classifies the nature of the particular electronic transaction. This information is then be transmitted via the IC t~nm1n~1~ to the ATM or POS or other EFT terminal, as desired, for providing automated tracking of electronic expenditure transactions.
As noted above, preferably deposit and EFT transaction information is inputted electronically from the payor bank or EFT network to the expenditure tracking system, which is also preferably located within the payor bank. Alternatively, at least some portion of the expenditure tracking system may be located in an off-site processing center, such as in a check clearing house or other check processing center, as desired.
For instance, in one alternatively preferred embodiment of the present invention checks are MICR read and scanned for marks in a check clearing house. For each check the clearing house detects which expenditure categories have been selected and records this information on a magnetic tape of check trans-actions of the type that is ordinarily provided to each payor bank serviced by the check clearing house. The payor bank then downloads this inf~rr-t;~n into its own computer, as desired, and organizes it to produce an expenditure statement }
WO96~37l9 ~ ~ 5 ~ 5 4 PCT~S9~/10~6 or more detailed ~ank statement in accordance with the present invention.
In another alternative preferred embodiment, an individual bank customer may request that his c~nr~lPd checks be returned to a designated check processing center. The processing center MICR reads and scans each canceled check to generate a 8tate~ent of expenditures broken out by account, expenditure category and amount, which i9 sent back to the bank customer. Advantageously, this enables a customer at virtually any bank to enjoy the benefits of the present invention as herein ~i~rlosP~ Optionally, the bank customer may further designate that his bank statement be forwarded to the processing center so that the information therein can be combined with the expenditure information obtained from the canceled checks in order to generate a more detailed bank s~atPmPnt of the type described above.
In that event, the bank statement i9 used as a founda-tional document for generating the customer~s more detailed statement. Advan~ageously, by relying on the bank statement and not the customer~s own journal o~ transactions, the present invention offers a consistent and comprehensive journalization c~ transactions without requiring secondary data entry or elcctronic downloading of information ~rom each individual banking institution h~n~l ~ ng those particular transactions. Also, this ensures that customers vho fail to consistently mark their checks will still receive valuable fin~n~iAl record8 which capture A~M, POS and other recorded transactions. Advantageously, the tracking system in accordance with the present invention continues to provide detailed information on ATM and ~FT transactions, as well as showing the amount of unclassified or m;~c~ npmu~ funds expended, thereby subtly rPm;n~;ng the client to stay current with expenditure marking.
Preferably~ a customer's bank statement is recognized by using a variable vertical zone delimiting technology available from high-end OCR developers, such as Visionshape~ of Orange, CA. A unique OCR template is created for each type of bank ~ i 2 9 5~A
J-t WO 96/03719 PCI'/US9~/10386 statement that may be encountered. The software is then "trained" to identify items such as horizontal lines and field description titles in order to extract the desired information.
To process a particular customer's bank statement, the statement is first scanned into a computerized image ~ processing system. The software first registers the columnlocation for each particular field of information c~nt~;n~ on the statement. Variable zones are then defined ~t~n~lng down from each corresponding field. The zones are variable in the sense that the software will ~ntinne to expect data to occur in the same horizontal field location until it confronts a different graphic configuration, such as a horizontal line in a zone defining text. The software will then expect that the zone is changing where a new type of data will be processed.
This new zone will be identifiable, not only by the horizontal line and text, but an OCR reader will also encounter new headings and column configurations which also signifies the occurrence of a new or different type of data. The text within each zone is then OCR read and recorded. Key words in the POS and ATM description fields are similarly identified and recorded such that the transactions may be properly categorized and identified in a subsequently generated expenditure report. Other possible preferred embodiments will be readily apparent to those skilled in the art.
Although this invention has been disclosed in the context of certain preferred ~ -~ir ' R, it will be understood by those skilled in the art that the present invention extends beyond the specifically disclosed embodiments to other alternative omho~ll t~ of the invention. Thus, it is intPn~d that the scope of the present invention herein disclosed should not be limited by the particular disclosed embodiments described above, but should be determined only by reference to the claims that follow.
|International Classification||G06Q20/04, G07F9/10, G07D7/00, G07G5/00|
|Cooperative Classification||G07F9/10, G06Q20/04, G06Q40/02, G07G5/00, G06Q20/042, G07D7/0047|
|European Classification||G06Q40/02, G06Q20/04, G06Q20/042, G07F9/10, G07G5/00, G07D7/00B8|